Picture man landing on the Moon and somewhere in the image there's probably an iconic emblem: the American flag.
But a Swedish design student thinks that a national flag alone doesn't suffice for space missions. When they venture beyond our planet, astronauts are not only representatives of their own country; they are ambassadors for Earth.
So 24-year-old Oskar Pernefeldt has designed a new flag, the International Flag of Planet Earth. Pernefeldt told me the idea started when he thought of how the flags we use now were originally used at sea, and we're now voyaging in a different space.
"We are sailing in a different kind of water now, so it should be relevant for our ships—which are spacecraft nowadays—to have a flag where we come from, and we come from Earth," he said. "I think it's a bit weird, ethically, to have different countries' flags when we're cooperating as much as we're doing. The space race is over."
He sees the flag being used when humans go to Mars, to represent the Earth and remind people that we share the planet.
How do you design a single flag that represents all the nations of the planet? Pernefeldt said he started by doing illustrations of the Earth itself, but found the result wasn't very inspirational. He pointed out that only two national flags actually include an image of the territory itself: Kosovo and Cyprus. Earlier designs for a potential Earth flag have also gone down this line, such as one by Earth Day founder John McConnell.
Pernefeldt wanted something more "motivational." The interlocking ring design he decided on symbolises a flower, which stands for life on Earth, and is also meant to suggest connectedness. He said he wanted "to show that our life is connected and what we do has consequences, if it's negative or positive."
The blue colour is meant to represent the ocean (though Motherboard editor at large Alex Pasternack pointed out the finished design also looks like a tech company logo).
While the flag has intergalactic ambitions, its design doesn't stray too far from home. Pernefeldt said he stuck to the general customs of vexillography (the posh name for the art of designing flags) rather than making anything too crazy like a circular design.
Pernefeldt completed the design as his graduation project, and getting it actually adopted is a whole other matter. "When creating a flag you usually have a buyer or a client," he said. "But I don't, so no one can really acknowledge this as the Earth's flag."
It'd be up to an agency like the UN Office for Space Affairs, or NASA or ESA, to decide to actually use it; Pernefeldt is content with raising the idea that we should all be going under one flag.
That's not to say he's against individual countries' flags. In fact, he can also envisage a universe where, for instance, people going to Mars from Earth might take the Earth flag but also develop their own flags for whatever might make up the equivalent of Martian countries—or the other way round, starting with a Mars flag.
But a unified flag could be one way of getting a simple message across to anyone out there, or perhaps more importantly to each other: We come in peace.
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