Tuesday, December 26, 2006

TOP 10 APOLLO HOAX THEORIES. For all of you conspiracy theorists out there... "We went to the Moon to beat the Soviets. If the Soviets had suspected that we faked these missions in any way, they would have been screaming at the top of their lungs." (This article is courtesy of Space.com.)

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands before an American Flag erected on the lunar surface

10.) FLUTTERING FLAG: "The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind."

The Science: If you look closely, you will notice the flag's edges are pulled taut. This effect, which was done purposely as to not allow the flag to just hang flat, was created by inserting a stiff wire into the fabric. The "flutter" was created as the astronauts worked to erect the flag. As the wire was adjusted, "Old Glory" appeared to wave.

An illustration of the Van Allen Belt surrounding Earth

9.) GLOW-IN-THE-DARK ASTRONAUTS: "If the astronauts had left the safety of the Van Allen Belt the radiation would have killed them."

The Science: The Van Allen Belts are created by Earth's magnetic field, and protect the planet from dangerous solar radiation. The Belts collect this radiation, and traps it in a layer surrounding the Earth. But unless you deliberately caused your spaceship to hover within this layer, for many hours or days, the radiation exposure is well below dangerous levels. The Apollo astronauts passed through the Belts in less than four hours total for the trip. "It's not much more serious than getting a chest x-ray," said Phil Plait, an astronomer at Sonoma University in California. Outside the Belt, the radiation drops to low levels that are only dangerous over extremely long periods of time.

An Apollo astronaut sets up an experiment on the lunar surface

8.) THE SHADOW KNOWS: "Multiple-angle shadows in the Moon photos prove there was more than one source of light, like a large studio lamp."

The Science: The astronauts were taking their photos on a hilly, brightly-lit landscape while the Sun was close to the horizon. Imagine taking a photograph of someone on a rolling, uneven field of snow during a full, low-hanging Moon. The contours of the ground would produce shadows of many different lengths.

Buzz Aldrin poses for the camera

7.) FRIED FILM: In the Sunlight, the Moon’s temperature is a toasty 280 degrees Fahrenheit. The film (among other things) would have melted.

The Science: No one was leaving bare film out on the hot lunar surface. All material was contained in protective canisters. In addition, at the time the Apollo missions landed, they were either at lunar dawn or dusk. As a result, the temperature was more easily manageable.

A footprint created by that 'one small step for man...'

6.) LIQUID WATER ON THE MOON: To leave a footprint requires moisture in the soil, doesn’t it?

The Science: Not always. If you take some dry fine-grained dust such as talcum powder and dump it out, it's easy to make tracks in it that hold their shape. The particles hold their positions due to the friction between them.

Leonid meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere

5.) DEATH BY METEOR: Space is filled with super-fast micro meteors that would punch through the ship and kill the astronauts.

The Science: Space is really amazingly big. While there are indeed an uncountable number of tiny pieces of debris traveling through the Solar System at speeds in the neighborhood of 120,000 MPH, the volume of space keeps the density low. The chance of any given cubic yard of space having a micro-meteor passing through it is incredibly close to zero. Additionally, the astronauts' suits included a layer of Kevlar to protect them from any tiny fragment they might encounter.

A Lunar Excursion Module

4.) NO CRATER AT LANDING SITE: When the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed, its powerful engine didn’t burrow a deep crater in the "dusty surface".

The Science: Beneath the layer of dust, the Moon is made up of fairly densely-packed rock. What dust and loose dirt there was though, was "kicked up" as referenced by the astronauts and captured in their landing films.

The ascent stage of a lunar module takes off into space

3.) PHANTOM CAMERAMAN: How come in that one video of the LEM leaving the surface, the camera follows it up into the sky? Who was running that camera?

The Science: The camera was controlled remotely from Earth...by Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

An Apollo astronaut cruisin' around on a lunar rover

2.) BIG ROVER: There’s no way that big moon buggy they were driving could have fit into that little landing module!

The Science: The rover was very cleverly constructed to be made out of very light materials, and designed to fold up to about the size of a large suitcase.

Earthrise as seen by the Apollo 11 astronauts

1.) IT’S FULL OF STARS! Space is littered with little points of lights (stars). Why then are they missing from the photographs?

The Science: If you've ever taken a photograph outside at night, you'll notice that faint distant objects don't show up. That's not because the air blocks them—it's because the brightness of the nearby objects washes out the film. In fact if you were standing on the day side of the Moon, you'd have to somehow block the landscape out in order for your eyes to adapt enough to see the stars.

Also, check out any modern-day photograph of a Space Shuttle or the International Space Station in orbit, and you won't see any background stars in those pictures as well. This also applies to images taken by interplanetary spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Venus and all the other planets.

LEFT IMAGE: Astronauts working outside the International Space Station (July 8, 2006)... RIGHT IMAGE: Saturn in an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft (December 22, 2005)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...completing STS-116 on December 22, 2006.

TWO DOWN, THIRTEEN MORE TO GO... Actually, it's fourteen shuttle missions if you count the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing flight in 2008. Anyways... Because of bad weather at the primary landing sites of Florida's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Edwards Air Force Base in California, White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico was activated as being the potential site where an orbiter landed for only the second time since 1982 (space shuttle Columbia landed there after mission STS-3). Fortunately, the weather cleared up enough over KSC for Discovery to touch down there instead (on its second landing opportunity. The first try was scrubbed due to rain showers near Cape Canaveral)...and thus complete the third and final space shuttle mission of 2006, and only the fourth shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster. The next mission, STS-117, will be with Atlantis and is scheduled for launch on March 16, 2007.

The International Space Station's new look as of December 19, 2006.
ABOVE: The International Space Station's new look as of December 19, 2006.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

INTO THE NIGHT... Following Thursday’s launch scrub due to cloudy weather, space shuttle Discovery finally lifted off into space tonight...and is now set to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Monday afternoon. This is the third and final shuttle flight for this year, with more interesting missions to come in 2007 with the planned additions of Europe’s Columbus, (the first component of) Japan’s Kibo and the United States’ Node 2 modules...plus another set of huge solar panel wings. Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on December 21st. Godspeed, the crew of Discovery...on mission STS-116.

Space shuttle Discovery lights up the night sky on December 9, 2006.

A camera onboard Discovery's external fuel tank captures this footage of the orbiter separating after main engine cut-off following launch.