Apollo 11: Mementos on the Moon

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Apollo 11 patch

At a Department of State senior staff meeting on May 27, 1969, part of the discussion concerned the international implications of objects that might be left on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, intended to be the first lunar landing.

After internal discussion, the Department of State provided NASA with its views on the matter of objects to be left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in the following letter.[1]

Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., lifted off from Cape Kennedy at 9:32 AM EDT on July 16, 1969.  The Lunar Module touched down on the Moon at 4:18 PM EDT on July 20.  Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, stepped on the surface at 10:56 PM EDT, followed shortly by Edwin Aldrin.  The next day, Armstrong and Aldrin left the Moon.  The three astronauts landed back on Earth in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Hawaii at 12:51 PM EDT on July 24, 1969. 

Clearly, as this iconic photograph from the Apollo 11 mission shows, NASA did not accept the Department’s key recommendation about the U.S. flag.[2]

Edwin Aldrin looks at US flag planted on the moon
Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin,Lunar Module (LM) pilot, salutes the U.S. flag that has been placed on the moon (NAID 16685052)

The Lunar Module base remains on the Moon.  Attached to one leg is this plaque.

"Here Men from the Planet Earth 1st set foot upon the moon July 1969, a.d"

Also left on the Moon was a small silicon disc with statements by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, goodwill messages from the leaders of 73 other countries, and other information.[3]


[1] Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson to Administrator Thomas O. Paine, June 8, 1969, file SP 10 US (NAID 594736), 1967-1969 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  The Department sent a copy of the letter to the National Security Adviser in the White House.  See Acting Executive Secretary James Hawley to Henry Kissinger, June 8, 1969, file SP 10 US, 1967-1969 Subject-Numeric File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State. 

[2] Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin,Lunar Module (LM) pilot, salutes the U.S. flag that has been placed on the moon. The LM is visible in the left field of view. Numerous footprints and the cable of the surface television camera are visible on the lunar surface in the foreground. Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission. (NAID 16685052) RG 255, Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administraion

[3] For more information about the disc and the information on it, please see the NASA press release

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