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What the Heck Is This?

This is a super-duper close-up of a very famous image. You might easily guess the iconic item shown in the close-up, based on the pattern, but can you guess its context?

Hint: Today (May 25) is a very special anniversary.

No ideas? Read on …

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy challenged NASA and the nation to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the 1960s.

The photo, full version below, is the result of that challenge. It's the U.S. flag on the moon, with Buzz Aldrin standing next to it during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Because there is no wind on the moon, a rod was used to hold the flag horizontal, but the rod didn't extend fully, so the flag ended up a bit wavy, making it look windblown (See the other image below of the sketch that hatched this idea).

Great effect, except ...

The wavy flag, along with other perceived inconsistencies, fueled belief among conspiracy theorists  that the moon landings were faked. If you don't believe we went there, just ask Buzz. In 2002, way before the moonwalker did "Dancing with the Stars," conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel called him a "coward and a liar" for faking the events. Aldrin, 72 at the time, punched Sibrel in the jaw.

Got a strange or interesting photo related to science, nature or technology? What the Heck, send it to me and maybe I'll use it. And you follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Prior to the first moon landing (Apollo 11 mission), Jack Kinzler, Chief of Technical Services Division at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), drew up this preliminary sketch for how the U.S. flag would be planeted on the moon and be held horizontal on a world with no atmosphere, no wind. The flag assembly included a horizontal crossbar to give the illusion of a flag flying in the breeze. (Image credit: NASA)

Buzz Aldrin posed for this picture next to the U.S. flag. The rod to hold the flag out horizontally would not extend fully, so the flag ended up with a slight waviness, giving the appearance of being windblown. The flag itself was difficult to erect, it was very hard to penetrate beyond about 6 to 8 inches into the lunar soil. (Image credit: NASA)
Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.