O n June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution to adopt the Stars and Stripes as the official symbol of the new United States of America. On the symbolic meaning of the design, George Washington notes:
"We take the star from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty."
From this point forward, the American flag flew from every government building and corner store, carried by soldiers across battlefields and burial grounds, and pledged allegiance to by generations of schoolchildren.
More than 50 years ago, the United States and the USSR were locked in a race to the moon, the flag came to represent something more: a signpost of democratic victory, a show of the country’s first-place standing among nations.
The stakes were incredibly high, but they were nothing compared to the risks taken by the astronauts, who, particularly after the tragedy of Apollo 1, were all too aware that they may not return home alive.
On each mission, the astronauts carried a United States flag. It was a reminder of who they were, and why their work and courage mattered.
And on July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step foot on the moon, planting the American flag for the first time on another celestial body. At that moment, the flag was more than the sum of its parts – it symbolized the incredible, unbelievable capabilities of the men and women, American or not. Humans were on the moon – and the rest of space sat waiting, ready for us to explore.
This flag was carried by Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin on his journey to the moon in 1969. The flag comes with a letter, which reads: "This certificate of authenticity certifies that the accompanying Apollo 11 United States Flag was flown to the Moon aboard the command module “Columbia." The letter continues:
"In July of 1969, I landed on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 crew. To help commemorate this historic milestone, I chose to personally carry the accompanying 4x6 inch American Flag with me in my Personal Preference Kit (PPK). This flag symbolizes our great nation and, as such, I proudly carried it with me to the Moon."
Aldrin stands next to the United States flag after deployment on the lunar surface. This photograph best symbolizes the accomplishment of John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon.
Apollo 13 was scheduled to be NASA's third moon-landing mission. Instead, however, following an oxygen tank explosion, the spacecraft shifted from a moon-bound landing unit, to a crippled vessel. To this day, the mission is regarded as evidence of NASA's innovation saving lives on the fly. This United States flag was carried aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft and mounted to a certificate signed by the crew, Mission Commander James Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise
Two flags flown by John W. Young, Mission Commander of Apollo 16, come with letters of provenance signed by Young's widow, Suzy Young:
"I hereby certify that the flag of the UNITED STATES that accompanies this letter was flown to the Moon aboard the Apollo 16 mission April 16-27, 1972. It has been part of John W. Young's personal collection since returning from the mission."
The famous image of Apollo 16 Mission Commander John Young doing his jumping American flag salute with the lunar lander and rover in the background. Young completed three EVAs in the Descartes Highlands with Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke, making him the ninth person to walk on the moon.
And finally, the last man, the last flag. In this photo, Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan sets up the final lunar flag. In the background, we see the familiar glow of earth. Mission transcripts show this pose was choreographed between Cernan and the photographer, Apollo 17 Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt. After they finished, Cernan reflected aloud on the importance of the moment, noting:
"It's got to be one of the most proud moments of my life. I guarantee you ... Houston, I don't know how many of you are aware of this, but this - this flag has flown in the MOCR since Apollo 11. And we very proudly deploy it on the Moon, to stay for as long as it can, in honor of all those people who have worked so hard to put us here and to put every other crew here and to make the country, United States and mankind, something different than it was."
These flags, photos and other important objects from the space race will be sold at Sotheby's upcoming Space Exploration auction in New York on 20 July, 2019 at 11:00 AM EDT. Register now to bid online, and discover more objects from the collections of Buzz Aldrin, John W. Young and other astronauts.