Culture Schools


    Home school club: why did the Apollo 11 flag “flap” on the moon?

    13 May 2020

    This week we’ve got packs of cards, flags on the Moon and one-handed rugby players. There’s also the clever method that Winston Churchill came up with for annoying Charles de Gaulle …


    The ‘&’ symbol, meaning ‘and’, is called an ‘ampersand’. The symbol was included (as recently as the 19th century) by schoolchildren reciting the alphabet. Coming to the end they would say ‘… X, Y, Z and, per se, and’. (‘Per se’ means ‘by itself’.) When they said this quickly, it sounded like ‘ampersand’ – so the name stuck.


    Whenever you shuffle a pack of cards, you are arranging them in an order that has almost certainly never been seen before.

    The number of possible orders is 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 … all the way down to 1. (This is because there are 52 possibilities for the first card, then only 51 for the second and so on.)

    That’s an incredibly big number – in fact it’s way larger than the number of times humans can ever have shuffled packs of cards. So the chances are that your order is unique.


    November 1944: British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) walking with French General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) whilst on a visit to Paris during World War II (Getty)

    Winston Churchill’s coffin left London from Waterloo station purely to annoy General de Gaulle.

    The pair had never got on. So Churchill decreed that if he died before de Gaulle, and the Frenchman was at his funeral, the train taking his coffin from London to Oxfordshire (where he was to be buried) had to start its journey from Waterloo. It would have been much easier for it to leave the capital from Paddington station, but Churchill wanted to force the French leader to look up at the name of one of France’s most famous military losses.


    Thomas Gordon, who played three times for Ireland in the 1870s, is the only one-handed rugby international ever. He had lost his right hand in a shooting accident.


    The boundary between Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire is the shortest county boundary in England. It’s just 19 metres long.


    Look at a picture of one of the American flags on the Moon. (Each of the six Apollo missions that landed there planted one.) They appear to be flying, right? But how can they be, when there famously isn’t any atmosphere on the Moon, and therefore no wind to make them fly?

    This is one of the pieces of ‘evidence’ mentioned by conspiracy theorists, the people who believe that we never went to the Moon and that the landings were faked (possibly in a desert somewhere). But NASA knew that the flags wouldn’t fly, so they designed a horizontal pole (attached to the top of the vertical one) from which the flags could hang.

    On Apollo 11, the mechanism that supported this horizontal pole jammed, meaning that the flag wrinkled slightly. This gave the impression that it was flapping in the wind – further fuel for the conspiracy theorists.