July 11, 2011

Moon Flag Shreds Auctioned

Flag remnants from the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon were auctioned off by retired NASA mechanical engineer Thomas Moser, who was put in charge of designing a flag mechanism that could fit in the lunar module, survive the flight to the lunar surface and appear to fly in the no-wind environment of the moon, reports the New York Times.

Moser, then 30 years old, was given two weeks to come up with a flag that could be carried to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. His solution for the dilemma involved two sections of a staff, a telescoping tube and a nylon flag bought at a local housing goods store. Then, in order for the flag to fit the staff, its edges needed to be trimmed.

"They were throwing it all in the trash," Moser recalled, "so I picked it up out of the trash can, mounted it and had Neil Armstrong sign it."

Now, 42 years later, Moser is selling those flag shreds at auction for an expected fetch of $100,000.

"There's so much attention on the manned space program right now that the timing may be good," said Moser, referring to the final space shuttle launch this past weekend.

The flag shreds are the star attraction of an extensive space memorabilia auction that was held in Beverly Hills on Sunday.

Michael Orenstein, who oversaw the auction for Goldberg Coins and Collectibles, said the remnants of the flag are "comparable to a Betsy Ross flag or the flag flying over the port in Baltimore in 1812." Online pre-bidding for the lot had reached nearly $50,000 two days before the auction began.

Selling space nostalgia is a risky venture, especially when it possibly contains Moon dust. The sale of moon rocks, or dust, is illegal -- no matter how minute the matter is. In June, a triangular patch of transparent tape no more than an eighth of an inch wide was confiscated by investigators from an auction house in St. Louis because it had contained tiny particles of moon dust.

It is also illegal to try to sell any space memorabilia that NASA has not willingly discarded or authorized. Orenstein said that this auction contained no moon particles, and that all NASA property in the sale had been discarded by the agency long ago. A spokesman for NASA declined to comment on the status of the items.

Moser said he does not plan to attend the auction, but was on hand at the Kennedy Space Center for the final lift off of the Atlantis space shuttle on Friday.

"I spent most of my life developing the shuttle," said Moser, who retired in 1989 after 25 years with the agency. "I was there from sketch pad to launch pad."


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