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Apollo 14 Flag Deployment

by James Fincannon

Copyright © 2012 by Eric M. Jones
All rights reserved.
Last revised 21 April 2012.

Apollo 14 LROC

Animation made from seven LROC images of the Apollo 14 landing site, ordered from sunrise to sunset. LROC images courtesy NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.  An object north of the LM casts a faint shadow, probably the large, umbrella shaped S-Band antenna.  There is also a shadow that appears to be cast by the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET).  The flag was deployed closer to the LM east-west center line than the S-band and, after liftoff, ended up pointing in a northwesterly direction. There is no unambiguous evidence of a flag shadow in the LROC images.

The Apollo 14 landing occurred on Febrary 5, 1971, with the crew spending 33.5 hours on the lunar surface before returning to lunar orbit. 

Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell deployed  the flag early in the first EVA, with Mitchell hammering the lower section of the pole into the ground. 

Frame from Shepard's 4 0'clock pan

Detail from AS14-66-9256, a frame from Al Shepard's 4-o'clock pan, taken about 13 meters northeast of the center of the LM. At the lower left, the north footpad is hidden behind a mound of dirt it pushed aside during the landing.  The white cable connecting the S-band antenna to the MESA is about 6 meters long; the S-Band tripod is about 2 meters tall, so the antenna is perhaps 4 meters north of the foot pad.  The US flag is visible beyond the antenna. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

frame from Shepard's 12 o'clock pan

Frame AS14-66-9305 from Shepard's 12 o'clock pan, taken about 14-15 meters west of the center of the LM during EVA-1.  Shepard was standing on the north edge of the LM shadow. Note that the S-Band antenna is  on the same line-of-sight as the flagpole and, therefore, is farther from the E-W center line of the LM.   (Click on the image for a larger version.)

S-Band, TV, thruster from Ed's window

View (AS14-88-9323) out the LMP's window after EVA-1, with a LM thruster, the S-band antenna and the TV on the same line-of-sight.  The TV camera is about 50 feet (15 m) from the MESA.   (Click on the image for a larger version.)

View of the flag and S-band shadow

View of the flag and the S-band antenna from the LMP's window after EVA-1.  AS14-66-9324 was taken at about 20:45 UTC on 5 February 1971 with a solar elevation of 16.4 degrees.  The center of the S-band shadow is about 6.8 meters from the tripod.  The antenna dish is 3-m diameter, with a similar shadow width. The flag pole is, then, about 4 meters closer to the E-W centerline of the LM. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

View of the LM from Station H

Detail from AS14-68-9486, showing the LM from Station H late in EVA-2. Station H is about 26 degrees west of north, giving a view of the hatch and ladder.  The flagpole is on the same line-of-sight as the center of the forward footpad, indicating that the flag farther west than the footpad.  Consequently, at liftoff the engine exhaust will swing the flag around to point west of north.

Flag after PLSS jettison

View (AS14-66-9338) from the LMP's window after PLSS jettison.  The orientation of the flag changed during cabin depressurization for EVA-2 and again for the depressurization prior to PLSS jettison. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Flag orientation before and after RCS hot-fire

Change in flag orientation from before (left and center) and after (right) the RCS hot-fire check.  The image of the left is Hasselblad image AS14-66-9338.  The center image shows the same flag configuration was seen by the 16-mm DAC mounted high in the LMP's window.  The image on the right is a DAC frame taken after the hot-fire check.  Clearly, the flag swung primarily under the influence of the thrusters just to the left of the LMP window. Composite by Journal Contributor Yuri Krasilnikov.

Note that, in the DAC image taken after the hot-fire check (right in the previous figure), the S-band shadow is missing.

At 140:27:25, Apollo 14 CapCom Bruce McCandless advised the crew:

Having passed you the changes through the comm configuration at minus 1 hour and 15 minutes, we'd like to hold off on going into the Down-Voice Backup mode and ICS/PTT until lift-off minus five-zero minutes.  That is, just prior to the RCS hot-fire check, as we're advised that on Apollo 12, the hot-fire check blew the erectable antenna over. If the erectable antenna is still standing after the hot-fire check, we'd prefer to come back into the Normal voice configuration until sometime shortly before lift-off.  Over.

At 140:50:02, Shepard is about to start the RCS hot-fire check:

Okay.  Here we go.  (Long pause of about one minute)  Okay, Houston.  The (S-band) antenna blew over.

As can be seen in Apollo 11 training photo S69-31059, the tripod and transmitter mast were firmly connected to the dish.  A film clip shot during Apollo 14 training by Ed Dempsey show how dramatically the dish sprung open, a good reason for solid construction. During training, the astronauts quickly learned that they had to take firm hold of one of the tripod legs to keep the antenna from tipping over.  Apollo 11 training photo S69-31162 shows Armstrong hold a tripod leg while the dish springs open.

Flag during the
        first 3 seconds of liftoff

The flag was in the field-of-view of the DAC camera for the first three seconds of the ascent.  The flag was still waving under the influence of the ascent engine exhaust when it went out of the DAC frame, but was generally pointing northwest, as would be expected for its location northwest of the spacecraft.  Frame grab by Ken Glover.

With the S-band antenna having blown over during the hot-fire check, it undoubtedly flapped around during liftoff if it remained connected by cable to the MESA.

The other object near the LM that is likely to cast a noticeable shadow is the MET.  As can be seen in the DAC frames, the MET is parked closer to the LM E-W centerline than the flag.  The distinguishing feature of the MET is its bulk and low profile.  In the following comparison of LROC frames, there is a shadow casting object at about the right place, and with a shadow that remains attached to it.

Comparison of seven LROC images

Note that the presumed S-band shadow is much narrower than its Apollo 12 counterpart.  In addition, we don't see a clear indication of any part of the dish showing up in reflected sunlight.  This suggests that the antenna may have ended up on its side, with the tripod and transmitter mast aligned north-south.


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