For many centuries, it has been a tradition to plant a flag, traditionally that of the country sponsoring the expedition, whenever a new frontier is explored. However, with no more land discoveries to be made, the new frontier of exploration is space. Between SpaceX and NASA, it is highly probable that we will have a human walk on Mars in the next thirty years. This brings up a number of questions: What flag should represent these astronauts? Should we approach this new frontier as separate countries or as a united world? One of the main questions, however, is whether we should approach this as individual countries seeking to plant our own flags, or as an entire species from the same planet united in our desire to explore.
The easier of the two answers in terms of flags is to continue as individual nations, because we already have a distinctive flag for each country that the majority of the countries’ members are already happy with. An Earth flag would also be hard to vote on, because we would have to make everyone, across nations, agree. Also, countries already have their spacecrafts covered with their own flags, and countries have already planted their own flags on the moon. So why change now?
The argument for a flag for Earth is that if we are going to explore other planets, we should do so not as many nations laying claims, but as one species united in its desire to learn and discover. Going to new planets is different from going to our moon; for one, our moon is not very habitable, while other planets that we explore may be. A flag for Earth would have to represent all of us and our planet, so there are many different ideas. Some people think that we should adopt the Olympic or United Nations flag, and others think that we should use an entirely new design. Here are some of the different ideas (although none have been endorsed by any governments representing the whole earth).
The Olympic flag is a good candidate, because it is already a well-known flag used to represent the nations of the world, lending its use to be an easy transition. The five rings on the Olympic flag represent the five continents that humans live on (considering Europe and Asia as one continent because they are not geographically separate). Also, there is at least one color from each flag of the world on the Olympic flag. This demonstrates a sense of unity between countries and represents all of us. Additionally, this flag is very simple, yet effectively demonstrates what it needs to.
Another flag that could be repurposed to be a flag that represents the Earth is the current United Nations flag. The United Nations flag is currently only being used to represent countries in the United Nations, but as it is widespread, it could easily be adopted to be a flag for the entire Earth. The map in the center provides an unconventional view of Earth (a view from the top), which represents world unity, and the olive leaves around the Earth represent peace. All of this is on a light blue background, which would show up nicely both against a white spacesuit or the dark of space.
Another popular flag is the “International Flag of Planet Earth” by Oskar Pernefeldt. The blue background represents water, which is key in the existence of our species and the well-being of our planet. Blue also shows up well against both the white of space suits and the black of space. There are seven rings, which represent the seven continents of our planet; the circle in the middle represents the Earth; the flower shape in the middle of that central circle represents life on earth; and the other circles represent other places in space that are connected to Earth (such as the moon or Mars) through our exploration. If the circle representing Earth is taken away, the entire structure would fall apart, representing the importance of the preservation of Earth.
There is a flag option for those who like the current flags of countries but want a more united approach. “World Flag” by Paul Carroll contains the flags of all current United Nations members and a map of Earth in the center. This flag represents the immense cultural diversity of our species and has a map of Earth in the center that reminds us of where we came from as we explore other planets. Although this flag is a nice mix of the two answers to the flag issue, it would be hard to use. It has so many flags that it would be hard to see what is going on if it were were scaled down to the size of a patch on an astronaut’s arm. Also, this flag goes against the general rule that an ordinary person should be able to draw the flag from memory.
A flag that meets both the simplicity criteria and shows earth is “Flag of Earth” by James Cadle. This flag shows the earth in its center as a blue circle and represents the moon with a gray circle and the sun with a partial yellow circle. This flag does a good job showing Earth with the sun and moon without adding too much complexity. This flag is popular with some SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers and was flown at the Ohio State University Radio Observatory.