NASA landed on the Moon exactly 50 years ago this month on the evening of July 20, 1969. The historic mission saw astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins safely fly to the Moon and back. In the half-a-century since, a photo of Aldrin saluting the American flag on the pockmarked surface of the Moon has become as iconic as the event itself. But on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, the European Space Agency (ESA) has shockingly revealed a Swiss flag made it to the surface of the Moon just before the US flag did.
NASA’s two astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin, walked on the surface of the Moon while Collins kept a watchful eye from lunar orbit.
During their extravehicular activities (EVAs), the two Americans took photos of the Moon, broadcasted reports back to NASA and deployed various experiments.
One of the experiments involved deploying a Swiss-made solar sail to study the composition of the solar winds washing over the Moon.
Officially dubbed the Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC), the solar sail was also known as the “Swiss flag” experiment.
And according to the ESA, the white banner of aluminium foil was the only non-American experiment deployed on the Moon by the Apollo crew.
The ESA said: “The flag-like Solar Wind Composition Experiment was the first experiment set up by the Apollo 11 astronauts on the lunar surface, and its Principal Investigator was Johannes Geiss, the world-leading Swiss physicist.
“Manufactured by the University of Bern and the Swiss National Science Foundation, this experiment was both simple and of great scientific value.
“It was one of the only experiments to be carried on every lunar landing mission, and it was the only non-American experiment to be part of the Apollo landings.”
Through the sheer power of “scientific arguments and diplomacy”, Dr Geiss convinced NASA to deploy the Swiss banner before the US flag.
According to Dr Geiss, the goal of the experiment was to measure the composition of solar winds, which is not possible on Earth because of the planet’s protective atmosphere.
However, by placing the solar sail on the Moon for 77 minutes during Apollo 11, the flag could absorb the charged particles streaming from our star.
The physicist said: “With the foil of the solar wind experiment it was possible to catch these particles and then measure them on Earth, especially the isotopes of the light noble gases, meaning helium, neon and argon.
“This gave important information about the past of the Universe and the ‘Big Bang’.”
After the success of Apollo 11 in 1969, NASA landed five more crews on the Moon by the year 1972.