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Episode 5: Heat and Radiation Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax

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Recap: Two classes of claims about why Apollo astronauts never landed on the moon deal with heat and radiation. Find out why your common-Earth-sense doesn't help you on the moon, and why these claims aren't worth the energy.

Puzzler: In this scenario, you only have an hour or two before you have to make your dinner and have to thaw chicken breasts from the freezer. You have the following options available to you: (1) Put it in the refrigerator; (2) Put it on the kitchen counter; (3) put it in a container of cold water; or (4) run a tiny stream of cold water over it. Of those options, what is best and fastest mechanism to thaw the chicken?

Solution to Episode 3's Puzzler: The full answer is based in an understanding of the current model for solar system formation. As the solar system formed, our pre-solar nebula collapsed down into a disk shape that revolved around the center of mass that became our sun. Because of various physical laws including conservation of angular momentum and gravity, regions of the disk that were CLOSER to the center of mass orbited faster, had more collisions, and so evolved more circular orbits within the same plane. Particles in the disk farther away orbited more slowly, had fewer collisions in a given time period, and so any vertical motions were less quickly dampened out. This effect remained after the sun was born and literally blew away remaining nebula material.

So, the asteroids were within the region that had more dampened, circular orbits generally within the same plane, and subsequent collisions over the past 4.5 billion years have maintained and enhanced that. Contrasted with comets which are 10-1000x farther away, and at that distance, they were much less dampened into a disk and so comets are significantly more likely to have the high inclinations.

For a comet to enter the inner solar system, it must have started out pretty far and then been nudged inwards. By definition, if you start out far from the sun but then come close to it, you're on a fairly elliptical orbit.

Additional Materials:

CORRECTION (aired in Episode 6):

  • Phil K. e-mailed me and made a quick correction about radiation that I talk about in this episode:
  • "... [Y]ou said the Van Allen belts consisted of alpha and beta radiation. Actually they consist primarily of protons and electrons -- the subatomic constituents of the hydrogen that makes up most of the sun, and which it spews out as the solar wind. Since the sun also contains some helium, helium nuclei are probably present as well but they're not really significant."
  • Phil is quite right and it is mostly electrons and protons - not helium - though helium is present. This doesn't change the point, though, that the radiation was blocked well enough by the methods used and the astronauts passed safely through.

Transcript of the Main Material:

The first claim here I'm going to look at is, to put it bluntly, a really easy one to talk about and a really quick one. BUT, it's the only audio clip I could find on this topic by the only living major player in the Moon hoax conspiracy theory, Bart Sibrel.

[Clip from Coast to Coast AM, March 20, 2009, Hour 3]

This is simple. His camera fogged up because it went from cold to hot, on Earth. Earth's atmosphere has water in it. The warm air with water came in contact with the cold camera and the very local temperature dropped. Lower temperature can't support as much water, and the water condensed out onto his camera.

On the moon, there is no water in the atmosphere because there is no atmosphere, despite what John Lear claims -- but that's an issue for another podcast. So with no moisture, there will be no condensation on the lenses.

This is the EXACT same thing that happens when you blow your breath on a cold day on glass. Or when you put cold liquid into a glass during the summer and condensation forms -- it's less of an issue here in Colorado, but I grew up in Ohio and dealt with very wet glasses as a result.

And anyone can make this kind of mistake. I was in Hawai'i on a perfectly legitimate geology field trip and my camera was in the car during the night. It was cold. Hawai'i is basically 100% humidity where we were. We drove to the first stop, I got out, took pictures, and realized that all my lenses had fogged up. I spent the next half hour riding in the car with my lenses buried between my legs to try to heat them up so it wouldn't be an issue at the next stop.

The next claim also deals with temperature.

Parts assembled from Dave Cosnett; Jackie Jura; and Mike Bara, Steve Troy, & Richard Hoagland: "The temperature during the Apollo missions were [sic] recorded as being between -180F in the shade to ... +200F in full Sunshine. How could the film emulsion have withstood such temperature differences? Exposure meters fail and film shatters in extreme cold. The film would melt in the [high] temperatures."

To understand what's going on here, you need to know about how heat is transferred. It can be moved from one material to another through any combination of three processes.

The first is the most efficient and is called "convection." This is when material physically mixes with another. An example I like to use is when soup boils on a stovetop, the material moves around going from the bottom to the top and then sinking again. This same thing happens in Earth's mantle with rising and sinking convection cells. It also happens in parts of the sun.

The second is called "conduction." This is when one material physically touches another, like when a pot of water is ON a stovetop. The pot physically touches the hot stove, the pot heats, and then the pot physically touches whatever is inside it and heats that.

The third method is the least efficient and is called "radiation" or "radiative" heating. This is how the sun transfers energy to Earth. It's how "heat lamps" work in cafeterias or terrariums. It works by light being given off by an object and that light energy being absorbed by another. Every object that has any temperature above absolute zero (-273°C, -451°F) will radiate heat.

Putting these together on Earth, the sun radiates heat to the planet, this gets absorbed by Earth's surface. The surface physically touches the bottom of the atmosphere, transferring heat by conduction. The atmosphere physically mixes, transferring heat by convection.

Going to the Moon, this doesn't work! The Moon has no atmosphere. The only way for it to heat up is for it to absorb heat from the sun. The only way for it to cool down is to radiate that heat away into space. So while on Earth the region right above the surface is generally close to the same temperature as the surface, on the Moon, the SPACE directly above the surface doesn't really have a temperature.

The only way for the film to heat up is for it to either absorb radiated energy from the sun and moon, OR for it have heat conducted to it from the moon through the astronaut to the camera to the film.

Neither of these are fast processes. Both of them were made even slower by coating the astronauts and the film in white, reflective material, and giving the film and cameras extra insulation.

And ... besides all that, the lunar landings took place near dawn, before that part of the moon had heated to +200°F, and after it had been warmed above the coldest -200°F.

This is a case, like many, that SOUNDS like it makes sense - "Oh noes! 400° temperature difference, we'd die!" - but your common sense from Earth doesn't transfer to the different environment of the Moon.

With this next claim, we move on to radiation.

From Bennett & Percy's Dark Moon, p. 540: "David Groves, Ph.D., has shown that the x-ray environment of space would quickly render any photographs unusable."

First off, this is a fairly blatant argument from authority. "David Groves" has a Ph.D. Therefore he must be right. Guess what? I also have a Ph.D. We can't both be right. In this case I am. Why? Because I said so.

But also because Dr. Groves' study was full of holes, holes not just caused by his radiation.

First, Groves didn't use the same film, same shielding, nor even the same brand of camera that the Apollo astronauts did. I don't quite blame him on the last point - Hasselblad cameras are EXPENSIVE!! - but if you want to test whether or not the film would have been irradiated, you kinda need to do the same thing the astronauts did, or at least simulate it well.

But that's not the only thing Groves didn't do right. The radiation you get on average in space is at an energy level of about 5 keV particles. "keV" stands for "kilo electron-Volts" where 1 keV is 10-16 Joules. To put this into some perspective, you would need 1017 of these PER SECOND to power a 60-Watt bulb.

So, the average radiation source in space is 5 keV particles. Groves exposed the film to 8 MeV particles -- over 1000x more energetic particles.

He also exposed the film to the equivalent of 6 YEARS of this radiation of 8 MeV, as opposed to the few weeks that was the average Apollo mission including the 3 days there and 3 days back.

What he found was that, yes, the film was rendered unusable. But that doesn't mean anything. What he did is exactly like me putting a cake in a 3000° oven for a week and then saying that it's impossible to bake a cake.

Finally, I'm going to take you full circle - or orbit - and go back to Bart Sibrel. This next clip is probably the most major one in this set that's advocated by conspiracy people and it has to do with the van Allen Belt radiation.

[Clip from Bart Sibrel's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon"]

You will often hear this whole "6 feet of lead shielding (that's 2 meters) is needed to protect astronauts from the radiation." This is a case where, like many, it's really on the conspiracy folks to show their math. I have searched and I have found NO ONE has ever shown this to actually be the case.

I was only able to find two references to it. The first was a book from the 1980s that said 6-ft of lead shielding would be needed to protect a crew on a 2000-year trip to the nearest star. That's a bit different from a 3-day trip to the Moon. The second reference was from the 1930s by a physicist saying that a certain type of radiation was blocked by the time it reached the bottom of a lake, which when you add a column of water from the lake to a column of atmosphere is as much material as a column of 6 feet of lead.

Neither of these have any bearing on radiation in the van Allen belts.

And, actually, the claim is wrong, besides the fact that 6 feet of lead would be more than enough to protect you from a large atomic bomb.

To understand why you don't actually WANT lead to be your shield, you need to know a bit more about radiation. The kind of radiation that's found in the Van Allen belts is generally alpha and beta particles, fancy physics terms for helium atoms and electrons.

Helium is easy to protect against because it's low energy and heavy. It won't penetrate your skin. Heck, wrap the capsule in a rubber balloon and you've protected it from helium.

Electrons are a bit trickier. It's true, lead would stop them. But, when metals absorb high-energy electrons, they have a nasty habit of emitting Bremsstrahlung radiation. I don't want to go into detail in this, I'll actually post a link in the show notes to more information about it, but the basic idea is that when an electron is deflected by another charged particle, in this case an atom of lead, it will lose energy, but that energy will be converted into a photon of light. This case, that photon would be a more dangerous x-ray.

So, the best way to shield from the electrons found in the van Allen Belts is by something that's thick and low-density that'll absorb them without emitting other radiation. Water would be good, but you can't build a ship out of water unless maybe you're a Xindi aquatic from a bad series that-shall-not-be-named. Instead, they used plastics.

That's really enough to refute the basic claim here, but there is a little more to say. First, NASA's not stupid. The mission carried the astronauts through a relatively thin part of the Belts which made the average exposure time, round-trip be about 3 hours.

The astronauts wore radiation detectors which showed they absorbed an average of about 4 times the average airplane pilot in a year. The maximum radiation absorbed was on Apollo 14 which was still about 0.7% of a lethal dosage.

Beyond this, there was the small part about how no one's traveled beyond the van Allen Belts since Apollo. That's true. But the reason is simply that nothing's been built that can. The shuttle, Gemini, Soyuz, etc. ... none of these had enough fuel to go past low-Earth orbit. There just wasn't public interest to justify the funding.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 3. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Christopher Lopes   Colorado Springs

10:48am on Friday, September 16th, 2011 

Maybe that's how he explains the "glass domes" being in some pictures but not others.

Stuart Robbins   Boulder, CO

10:40am on Friday, September 16th, 2011

Christopher, that's true that Hoagland relies upon Apollo to be true. To be honest, I pieced that together 6 years ago and did not keep quite as fastidious records as I do now, so I am not certain where exactly I found it nor which part came from Hoagland. HOWEVER, Hoagland DOES think that some of the Apollo photos WERE staged. Not his "data's head" one, but some of them -- he does think there are "anomalies" that indicate some staging on Earth.

Christopher Lopes   Colorado Springs

10:03am on Friday, September 16th, 2011 

Great episode. It explains a couple of Moon Hoax favorites nicely. The only question I have was in the use of the Hoagland/Bara work. As far as I can tell these guys (especially Hoagland) are not in the Moon hoax business. Hoagland in fact, depends on Apollo being true to support much of his mythology.

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