Buzz Aldrin twists in the wind, or, Capricorn One, we have a problem

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Now that David Weigel has blown the lid off America's most popular conspiracy theories, I've been knocked for a loop by one I thought had been settled long ago: the flag-based anomalies allegedly found in the famous picture of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing with Old Glory:

To the obvious question (especially popular, for obvious reasons, among non-Americans) of why the flag seems to be flying in a vacuum (or in the airless interior of Pinewood Studios), I've always responded with an obvious answer: As you can clearly see, there's a horizontal crossbeam that's holding the flag up. However, having come across the pic recently while reading Greg Klerkx's excellent if overargued Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age I can't actually say why the flag appears to be rippling. Did NASA engineers dye the flag with some kind of stiffening agent to make it look more robust? Is the flag still settling down from the motion of having originally been planted in the moon-dust (perhaps continuing to shake for a longer period due to the lack of air and 0.165 gravity)? And hey, which way is Buzz facing anyway?

Take a small step for man, and clear up this mini-mystery that I suspect may not even be worth the few minutes of thought I've put into it.

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  1. Take a small step for man, and clear up this mini-mystery that I suspect may not even be worth the few minutes of thought I’ve put into it

    if only the web had some kind of “finding engine,” or “searching engine” one could type a word or phrase into and a list of suggested links with the answer could pop up. whoever could invent such a thing could make a lot of money, perhaps even a google of money

  2. You’re confusing ‘rippling’ with ‘wrinkled’. Remember, it’s an airless, low gravity environment, therefore, when the handled the flag and put it in place, it will remain with whatever misshapen form it had when handled, instead of draping nicely toward the ground.

  3. If you look very carefully at the far left side of the photo, you can actually see one of the legs of one of the tripods that held one of the cameras that filmed the so-called “moon landing.”

  4. Patrick, that made me laugh. Very much, indeed.

  5. Check out Bad Astronomy Phil Plait has delt with this extensively

    http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/tv/foxapollo.html

  6. The direction issue is easily explained by the fact that the photo is commonly reversed so that the flag points the “correct” way rather than being backwards like in the original.

  7. I want my MTV

  8. No offense, Tim, but you probably deserve the fist to the face Aldrin’s gonna give you for posting this.

  9. A flag rippling? Pshhht! That’s not even the best Buzz-Aldrin-related conspiracy theory I’ve heard discussed today.

    To wit.

    UFO’s flying alongside Apollo? A coverup to “protect” the American people? Now THAT’s what I call a “conspiracy theory”, damnit.

  10. “Hello, is this President Clinton? Good! I figured if anyone knew where to get some Tang, it’d be you…. Shut up!”

  11. Cavanaugh! See the power of my left hook on another unbeliever! Tremble before my righteous lunar rage!

  12. Why again doesn’t the flag and pole cast a shadow on the lunar surface?

  13. Why again doesn’t the flag and pole cast a shadow on the lunar surface?

    Judging from the photo, the sun is at 8 o’clock or so relative to the photographer. Also the sun is low in the sky, as it was for all Apollo missions in order to supply surface features with highly visible shadows for landing.

    So the shadow of the flag is off the right of the frame, just as most of the shadows of Buzz and the LEM are. The pole’s shadow is likely too narrow and oblique to resolve.

    But I’ll bite… What is the remarkable technology used on the soundstage that induced such stark shadows on everything except the flag?

  14. The flag had its upper edge stiffened…like a lot of other space travel problems, this one had already been solved by a retired engineer and ex-Naval office, one Robert Heinlien:

    “On a short and slender staff the banner of the United Nations and the flag of the United States whipped to the top. No breeze disturbed them in that airless waste — but Ross had taken the forethought to stiffen the upper edges of each with wire; they showed their colors….” –Rocket Ship Galileo, written in 1947

  15. It doesn’t look like it’s rippling it looks like it’s wrinkled sorta like a piece of cloth would be in an airlesss windlesss vaccuum.

  16. Maybe they forgot to iron it before they left Earth?

  17. I dunno. If the pole is thick enough to show a light and dark side, it should be thick enough to cast a shadow.

  18. It doesn’t look like it’s rippling it looks like it’s wrinkled sorta like a piece of cloth would be in an airlesss windlesss vaccuum.

    Then why isn’t the bottom outside corner hanging down? Both the Braeunig and Badastronomy links say it’s because the horizontal bar isn’t fully extended, but that doesn’t explain why there would be any slack portions of the cloth that are not hanging fully down.

    I’m sticking with my explanation: The flag is still settling down from being planted. If we went up to look at Buzz’s flag now, the whole thing would be drooping, less the fold that’s caught by the insufficiently extended arm.

    My point wasn’t that you can’t google a debunking of the conspiracy theory; it’s that none of the debunkings explain why the picture looks the way it does.

  19. I dunno. If the pole is thick enough to show a light and dark side, it should be thick enough to cast a shadow.

    If you look at the extreme right in the full photo, you’ll see that it does appear to be casting a shadow.

  20. We all know that the WTC was taken down because a day trader had finally proven that the moon shot was a hoax.

  21. Well, Tim, there’s clearly only one option. We go back, take some pictures of the equipment left behind (the flag got knocked over, but we can pick it up), and return to disprove the hoax theory. Easy enough to do, since Moon-traveling technology is nearly 40-years old.

    Also, I could stand on the surface of the Moon and shoot green lasers into the eyes of doubters πŸ™‚

  22. How’s this for a conspiracy theory: I bought a bottle of “grape juice” the other day that clearly said “100% juice” on the side of the bottle. I was drinking it and reading the ingredients label and nearly spat up when I read that the second (or third?) ingredient was that villainous HFCS. What.the.fuck. I have been reading juice lables for at least 12 or so years now and I have *never* in my life before seen a label that was clearly marked “100% juice”, while at the same time the ingredients list corn syrup. Is corn syrup considered “corn juice” now? It would seem that way.

  23. smacky,

    I’m pretty sure that’s false advertising. Though the drink manufacturers have shown diabolical cunning in labeling their products in ways that make it sound like you aren’t getting added sweetener, they can’t say 100% juice unless it’s 100% some sort of fruit juices (probably some water is okay). They also are very good at mixing juices while making you think you’re getting 100% of a certain kind of juice. Bastards!

    Anyway, which juice company was it?

  24. Pro Libertate,

    It was Everfresh. I’m wondering if they haven’t either

    a.) Updated their “juice” formula to include HFCS and simply forgot to update the labels.

    b.) were actually trying to include corn syrup sweetener as a “juice” on some sort of technicality that I am to date unaware of.

    Either way, I should’ve saved the bottle…that would’ve been one sweet lawsuit!* (pun intended)

    *semi-joking…I agree it was clearly false advertising. I really do have 12+ years of label reading experience. That is where I got my amazing writing composition skillz from.

  25. If the pole is thick enough to show a light and dark side, it should be thick enough to cast a shadow.

    The pole is about the width of Buzz’s gloved fingers, which ought to be no more than an inch and a half. Let’s say the pole is two inches wide. If the photographer is standing 20 feet away with the camera 6 feet off the ground, the pole’s shadow on the ground would appear around six-tenths of an inch high as viewed from the camera. That’s difficult to resolve in the picture above, especially on terrain that undulates a lot more than fractions of an inch.

    Fortunately, NASA has foreseen your concerns and already drawn in the shadow of the pole in higher resolution versions like Tim’s above and this 600kB one.

    You know, that’s what’s really wrong with NASA today compared with the NASA that faked the moon landings. Does anyone think today’s NASA is competent enough to fake anything?

  26. smacky, I’ve done some Internet research. Did the bottle say, “100% Vitamin C”? I saw that on some bottles pictured on the web. I’m not sure what that phrase means, because the juice clearly isn’t 100% Vitamin C. Maybe it means 100% of the recommended daily requirement? Anyway, it could be a bottle of pure HFCS with Vitamin C added and meet that standard.

    The brand seems to be aiming at the “all natural” crowd, which would make the use of HFCS really, really dumb. Though “dumb” isn’t all that unusual in any human endeavor.

  27. Did the bottle say, “100% Vitamin C”?

    NO, IT SAID 100% JUICE, DAMMIT!

    *sobbing & hyperventilating*

    (evidence of emotional trauma, for the records…)

  28. I can’t actually say why the flag appears to be rippling.

    Uh, they forgot the Bounce sheet when they threw it in the drier? The thing just looks wrinkly to me.

    In all seriousness, it actually looks like the bar is a bit shorter than the flag, so the flag is all scrunched up at the top, like curtains on a rod, or some such concept.

  29. I swear this is true. I saw a man-in-the-street interview at the time and the TV guy asked this really old decrepit-looking black woman in some small town in Georgia what she thought of the Moon Landing.

    She said: My TV don’t even get Atlanta, how’s it gonna get the Moon?

  30. What I don’t understand about the hoax is, that flag is really fluttering on that soundstage. Anyone knows to get a flag to flutter like that you need a fairly stiff breeze, not an “errant” gust of wind. Given all the fine clay dirt they picked up to look like the surface of the moon, wouldn’t it be whipping around Aldrin too? With the “wind” blowing that hard, wouldn’t the astronaut be in the middle of a dust storm?

    I think the hoax is a hoax.

  31. smacky, were there mixers involved?

    Or could the label have said “100% Jewish” in some sort of solidarity with the current war?

  32. NASA deliberately had that flag made to look as if it was blowing in the wind.

    And 4 days before the first moon landing, congress passed a law making contact with extraterrestrials and their vehicles illegal. (Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations, now “reserved”).

    Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

  33. all this talk about aldrin’s pole has given me the vapors.

    the phil plaitt site is terrific.

    now let’s talk about charles colsen’s expert views on evolutionary theories.

  34. Mick, loved Sticky Fingers.

    However, you’re spreading an urban legend. The regulation dealt with being able to quarantine our astronauts (and their lunar pathogens), not with preventing me from accepting a power ring from a dying Green Lantern. It’s been purged from the C.F.R., anyway.

  35. but that doesn’t explain why there would be any slack portions of the cloth that are not hanging fully down.

    Tim, it’s a relatively stiff piece of material that was foled up for the journey. As I said before, the sharpness of the creases suggests wrinkling and even in a high gravity environment, there’s no absolute reason that it would do what you suggest it *should* do.

    Occam’s razor. If the moonshot had been faked, the flag would look MORE natural, not less natural. Instead, it looks like it’s doing something it wouldn’t normally do. Maybe that’s because it’s on another world?

  36. I remember reading at the time of the first Moon Landing that the flag ripples because it was fitted with a specially designed mechanical device that would move it and simulate rippling. Whatever sort of power supply that it had would run down after awhile and the ripples would be “frozen in time” as it were.

    Sorry, but I don’t remember where I read that; it was a hell of a long time ago. You understand how forgetful geezers are. πŸ™‚

  37. from the long shadows and location stated on most moon maps and givin the date of the moon landing one would expect the constilation orion to be in the sw sky (moon sw not earth southwest) and can clearly be seen in upper right of the picture…why the NASA hoaxters would spend so much time putting up constilations in the sky at exacting possitions but can’t keep the wind down on a sound stage is beyond me.

  38. “Maybe that’s because it’s on another world?”

    My favorite line. Dunno why, I like it, though.

  39. The LM was about 4.3 meters across. If the flag pole was 50 millimeters in diameter, then its shadow would be 50/4300 x 100% of the LM’s shadow = about 1%. On my computer monitor, the LM’s shadow is about a half-inch across (vertically), so the flag pole’s shadow would be about 0.005 inches across, which is smaller than a pixel on the screen; therefore invisible. The flag itself does appear to cast a shadow, but it is mostly hidden by Aldrin’s legs.

  40. … or the flag’s shadow may be beyond the right-hand edge of the frame. (Compare the shadow angle of the large rock in the foreground, in MikeP’s attached photo).

    A guy once told me he doesn’t believe in the moon landings, because he looked through his ‘scope and didn’t see the flag. It wasn’t until later that I realized he meant he looked through hs rifle ‘scope.

  41. Occam’s razor. If the moonshot had been faked, the flag would look MORE natural, not less natural.

    Jesus suckin’ Zeus, nobody is claiming the moonshot was faked. Put aside for a moment that anybody ever used this pic to prove a conspiracy theory. Does it really seem plausible to you that the flag looks like this because it was folded for a few days? Even at 0.165 gravity bodies eventually move downward. All the explanations I’ve seen are more concerned with disproving the conspiracy than with explaining why the flag looks the way it does.

    So since nobody can provide a more plausible explanation than my own-that it’s still unraveling and moving from having been planted-I’m going with that one.

  42. Tim, I agree with the “It’s still moving” theory. There’s no air resistance, of course, so there’s presumably much less friction to stop the flag (other than the flag moving on the wire, I suppose). It’s wavin’ in the vacuum.

    And please don’t blaspheme against Zeus again.

  43. So since nobody can provide a more plausible explanation than my own?that it’s still unraveling and moving from having been planted?I’m going with that one.

    The best source for something like this is the blast-to-read Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal.

    The bottom parts of that linked page record the flag planting and photos. Included there is a realvideo clip that clearly shows the flag as a limp rectangle of crimpled cloth in a vacuum. But most interesting is an animated gif that links Tim’s higher res image above with mine. Between these two photos Buzz clearly moves, turning his head and upper body to look at Neil. The flag, however, does not move a whisper.

    The flag is neither flapping nor settling. It is pretty much stuck.

    I would say the perception of a waving, moving flag is so pronounced simply because the extremely sharp angle of the sun magnifies the small surface ripples caused by scrunching the flag on the short horizonal support rod.

  44. I’m sticking with my explanation: The flag is still settling down from being planted. If we went up to look at Buzz’s flag now, the whole thing would be drooping, less the fold that’s caught by the insufficiently extended arm.
    ….
    So since nobody can provide a more plausible explanation than my own?that it’s still unraveling and moving from having been planted?I’m going with that one.

    Tim, about six hours ago I tried to post something that supports your hypothesis, but the squirrel wasn’t accepting posts at that time. I’ll try again:

    This was addressed a couple weeks ago by a program on the Discovery Channel, I believe. I caught it as I was channel-surfing.

    Basically the flag is hanging from an upside-down-L-shaped frame. The two rods that make up this framework are somewhat springy.

    When the astronaut planted the flag and stepped away, the springy framework continued to “jiggle” a bit. And that motion induced waves and ripples in the fabric of the flag.

    I believe they also pointed out that even as the jiggling died down, the rippling continued longer and with more amplitude than you’d expect, because in the reduced gravity of the moon, the ripples weren’t damped out as quickly by the weight of the fabric itself.

    They also showed video that seemed to support this, showing the springy framework jiggling after it was planted.

  45. Tim, I agree with the “It’s still moving” theory. There’s no air resistance, of course, so there’s presumably much less friction to stop the flag (other than the flag moving on the wire, I suppose).

    That too.

    Ooops. And as Mike P. suggests, apparently the fabric remains crinkly in appearance even when not in motion. I guess that could be so if it was relatively stiff. Especially if it was stowed in a wrinkly position during the flight to the moon. And there would be no wind to blow it and “shake out the wrinkles,” as well as less gravity to pull it straight (although it still might eventually do so over an extended time).

    I did see film of the flag jiggling and rippling in motion at one point.

  46. It’s really just painful to see this subject being discussed on H&R. I thought this had been put to bed a long time ago, but evidently even libertarians remain somewhat lacking in technical understanding of the world around them.

    This kind of speaks to my theory about bloggers in general: if they had anything truly important to be doing during the day, they wouldn’t be posting. I know; after I changed jobs last year to a much more interesting and throught-provoking job, my posting rate has been effectively zero. I used to post a few every day. Now I generally don’t even get to read H&R until I’m home.

  47. Well, thank God, db, you don’t have anything important to do at home. πŸ˜‰

  48. The flag is not moving. At all.

    There was a 16 mm camera filming the EVA from the window of the LEM. Here is a frame taken from that camera when Neil was taking the two pictures of Buzz and the flag. And here is a frame taken 12 minutes later while they were doing other stuff. The flag hasn’t flinched.

    And notice how narrow a shadow is formed by the 5×3 foot flag. The sun is indeed casting quite a sharp relief on the surface of the flag.

    Oh, I almost forgot… you can see the shadow of the pole, too.

  49. Well, thank God, db, you don’t have anything important to do at home. πŸ˜‰

    How terribly true.

    Anyway, I perhaps came across as bing a little harsh earlier. But I still don’t have time to post during the day, and I actually like it.

  50. What scares me about blogs is that, just as in politics, public thought is shaped by those who have time to dedicate to such things. And we all know about idle hands…

  51. I recall hearing at the time that, as in the Heinlein excerpt cited above, the moon flag had been “unfurled” with wires. To this day, I hear Cronkite’s voice talking about that whenever I contemplate that picture. Maybe a false memory, but I remember thinking thatg the moon landing conspiracists were cracked when I heard this particular issue raised, as I clearly recalled the unfurled flag as having been explained sufficiently AT THE TIME.

  52. Checking out other Apollo missions, I notice this high res close-up of the flag from Apollo 17. The photo shows extensive creasing likely due to how it was stowed, as Stevo suggested might be the case.

    Given that the flag was nylon and they didn’t splurge for the weight of an electric iron, I would think such creases would be difficult to get rid of. Add to that the fact that it was a plain old store-bought nylon flag made for earth’s gravity.

    The flag’s inherent stiffness in a gravity field one-sixth that for which it was designed, along with the accidental creasing and intentionally shortened horizontal staff, probably explains completely the perception of flutter.

  53. Pro_Libertate said:
    > you’re spreading an urban legend

    While you’re “spreading” only truth and wisdom no doubt.

    Scroll down here to see the text of the law.

  54. Yeah, you can see the flagpoles shadow. It’s above the shadow of the moonwalkers legs. Check the high resolution photo. It’s above the leg shadow by about the same distance as the width of 1 1/2 to 2 leg shadows.

    I always figured the flag was made from some sort of nylon cloth that was particularly stiff, and that’s why the edges didn’t fall.

  55. Checking out other Apollo missions, I notice this high res close-up of the flag from Apollo 17. The photo shows extensive creasing likely due to how it was stowed, as Stevo suggested might be the case.

    OK, now that’s an explanation that actually addresses why the flag looks the way it does. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you.

    Now a physics question: In the absence of an atmosphere, with about 1/6 the gravitational pull of the earth, and if the flag had not been knocked down, would the weight of the material eventually cause it to straighten out (less vertical creases and whatever bunching the crossbeam is causing)? The moon doesn’t strike me as a good environment for using the old salesman trick of hanging your wrinkled shirt in the bathroom while showering, so the moisture damps out the creases. But even in a vacuum, would the pull of 0.165G eventually pull down, for example, the bottom corner that now seems to be turned up?

  56. I regret that no one had the foresight to erect a giant Israeli flag on the moon. Iran would be spending trillions figuring out how to get to the moon to remove it. That would be entertaining.

  57. Needless to say, there is no humidity on the Moon. Because of this, electrostatic forces have a much more noticeable effect over small regions. The astronauts boots and suits were covered with a fairly heavy layer of lunar dust due to these localized electrostatic forces. So e-forces within the flag material might keep it looking wrinkled for a while.

    Eventually, I would think, the relentless broiling in unfiltered sunlight and then freezing in the near-absolute zero lunar night would weaken the flag’s fibers until it sags due to lunar gravity. I imagine that the “6 Flags Over Tycho” have all disintegrated by now.

  58. erect a giant Israeli flag on the moon. Iran would be spending trillions figuring out how to get to the moon to remove it.

    I think you have just figured out how to restart space exploration…

    On a side not this reminds me at the end of Mel Brooks “History of the World” there is a “Jews in space” preview.

  59. I have been reading juice lables for at least 12 or so years now and I have *never* in my life before seen a label that was clearly marked “100% juice”, while at the same time the ingredients list corn syrup. Is corn syrup considered “corn juice” now?

    You you got the watch that shit…what they mean is the juice we is use even if it has only 30% is 100% juice.

    What we need is a massive government program that insures labels are not misleading

  60. But even in a vacuum, would the pull of 0.165G eventually pull down, for example, the bottom corner that now seems to be turned up?

    As Slainte’ notes, the moon does have massive temperature swings from -370 to 250 degrees F. But I am not familiar enough with materials to know whether these monthly cycles will help knock out the creases or whether they will alternately hot-press and freeze-dry them into permanence.

    Some hints might be found in the article on the design of the moon flag and deployment. Of note is that the maximum temperature the flag could withstand was 300 degrees.

  61. The flag looks nothing like that today, because Armstrong and Aldrin placed it so close to the lander that they knocked the flag over when they left the moon.

  62. If it was blowing in the wind wouldn’t there be dust being kicked up too?

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