“How did the astronauts survive a trip to the Moon with all of that deadly radiation up there?”

Questions like that have convinced a lot of people that the whole Apollo Program was an elaborate hoax. Radiation is something most of us don’t understand and it scares us, which is why it is often a conspiracy theorist’s favourite weapon (in an extremely limited arsenal).

When people hear about radiation they tend to think of nuclear bombs, x-ray machines, or the Chernobyl accident. But not all radiation is the same. You are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation every time you go outside during the day, and our food is exposed to a form of radiation every time we cook it in a microwave oven. Some forms of radiation are relatively harmless, while others can kill you pretty quickly. Conspiracy theorists don’t make distinctions like that because to them all radiation is deadly. I guess it makes it easier for them to sell their books and DVDs.

When I first heard the radiation claim in 2001 it didn’t take me long to realize it was nonsense. I’m hardly an expert on radiation, but you don’t need to be either. You just need to use a bit of logic and have an understanding of how NASA dealt with the issue.

First, here is a bit of information about the three main sources of radiation that concerned NASA:

The Van Allen Belt

Credit: AnnieMouse60

A video simulation showing the trajectory of the Apollo spacecraft through the Van Allen Belt.

In 1958 a group of scientists lead by Dr. James Van Allen discovered a radioactive region of space around the Earth, later named the Van Allen Belt (or VAB).

The VAB is actually two distinct belts of radiation held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field. The inner belt extends from roughly 100–10,000km above the Earth and is made up primarily of protons and electrons. The outer belt begins three Earth radii above the Earth’s surface and contains primarily high energy electrons. I won’t bore you with a bunch of numbers that few people (myself included) understand because they are not important, and I’ll explain why later in the “Thinking Logically” section.

So how did NASA deal with this radiation hazard? They avoided it, for the most part. Remember that when traveling in space you can move in three dimensions. You can go up and down, not just forward and backward or left and right. Also, thanks to gravity, you always travel along curved paths, not straight lines.

In the video on the right you can see that the VAB is shaped like a donut, it doesn’t completely surround the Earth. The Apollo spacecraft followed a trajectory that minimized the amount of  radiation exposure by not traveling directly through the thickest regions of it.

In addition to the trajectory that the spacecraft followed, it also had layers of shielding that blocked much of the radiation. Hoax believers like to claim that “six feet of lead” is required to protect astronauts from radiation, but that is completely false. It is believed that claim originates from a book about long duration interstellar travel, not week long trips to the Moon.

Cosmic Radiation

Cosmic radiation originates from outside our solar system, and approximately 90% of it is made up of protons. Helium nuclei (alpha particles) account for about 9% of cosmic radiation, and nearly 1% is electrons.

The primary defense against this radiation was the spacecraft hull.

Solar Flares

A solar flare is what happens when the Sun ejects a massive burst of radiation. They happen infrequently and are difficult to predict. When they do occur you have little time to react. It sounds scary, doesn’t it? That’s what conspiracy theorists are counting on, of course.

While it is true that a major flare could have been harmful to the astronauts or the spacecraft, the important thing to remember is that major solar flares are uncommon. They don’t happen very often, and when they do they don’t necessarily affect Earth or Moon. It was considered unlikely a major flare would occur during a week long Apollo mission. The odds were in their favour.

Hoax believers wonder why NASA would risk the lives of the astronauts if they could not accurately predict solar flares, or sufficiently protect them if one did occur during a mission. But they don’t consider the fact that the astronauts were used to taking calculated risks. Flares were a concern, sure, but so were a number of aspects of their job.

Thinking Logically

Hoax believers try to sound intelligent by quoting a bunch radiation numbers that they don’t really understand. It’s a complicated subject, and I don’t claim to be an expert on it either. But you don’t need to understand the radiation to know it didn’t prevent humans from going to the Moon. You only need to think about it logically.

Simply put, if you lie about something that is out of your control your chances of getting caught are higher.

We know NASA can not control the radiation because if they could then it obviously wouldn’t have posed a problem at all. But the fact that they can’t control the radiation also means they can’t hide it, or deny that it exists. They can’t prevent someone from launching a satellite into space and discovering that the radiation is there, so successfully lying about it would be impossible. It would be like if I were to tell you that it is raining when it is, in fact, a beautiful sunny day. You would only need to look out a window to see that I was lying., right?

If NASA had lied about the Van Allen Belt the Soviets would have known because they had studied it themselves. The hoax would have failed immediately. Okay, so let’s pretend that the Soviets were actually in on the hoax (a ridiculous idea, I know). That would have only delayed the inevitable failure of the hoax. Eventually someone else would have discovered the radiation and realized NASA was lying about it.  Don’t forget that NASA would have to maintain their lie about the radiation for the rest of time, beyond the lifespan of the original conspirators… and that, my friend, would be impossible. Not even a nation as powerful as the United States can control every person on Earth.

So, knowing that the radiation is impossible to deny, why would NASA lie about it? Lying when you know you are absolutely certain to be caught is moronic, to say the least. They just wouldn’t have done that, because getting caught in a lie that big would be disastrous to the reputation of the United States.

What makes more sense? That NASA knew they couldn’t possibly get away with lying about the radiation but did it anyway, or that conspiracy theorists are simply wrong about this issue? This is why I believe the radiation actually helps support the authenticity of Apollo.