Tag Archives: moon

Were the Apollo Moon Landings Real, or Not?

This summer, I took my two sons and my nephew to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field Airport in Dallas.

If you like airplanes half as much as I do, you will want to visit Frontiers of Flight next time you are in the Dallas area. The exhibits cover the entire history of human flight, from Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches to the current space program. What sets this flight museum apart from most others is the sheer number of real planes on display; an aircraft enthusiast could easily spend all day there learning and exploring, and every time I visit, there seems to be something new to see.

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The best piece of all is the Apollo capsule. This is not a replica. It is the actual command module from the Apollo 7 mission. That fact in itself is enough to make me stand silently for a few moments every time I visit, and reflect on the audacity of the human spirit. Three human beings sat in that very box for eleven days, the rude metal cone hurtling through the vacuum of space at 50,000 miles per hour, guided by a primitive calculating machine with far less power than any cellphone you can buy today. Their courage and skill paved the way for the triumphant moment a year later, when an air-breathing mammal from Earth set foot on the dusty, airless surface of the Moon with the unforgettable words “one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”

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The Apollo capsule represents something that makes me proud to be a man. That’s why it makes me sad when a student asks me if the moon landings were real – because they read some silly web page (written by someone too ordinary to capture anyone’s attention without capitalizing on fear, distrust, and ignorance) about how the whole space program was faked.

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The Apollo program was a giant leap for humankind. It was a gigantic push, by a nation of dreamers, to go where no one had gone before, to do the impossible. It took a decade and cost $25 billion, which sounds like a lot of money until you compare it with the amount we spend on other kinds of hardware from stealth bombers to aircraft carriers (if you care to research this, make sure you look at operating costs, not just cost to build). And I have no doubt whatsoever that Apollo was a genuine program that delivered genuine results – among the most spectacular results ever achieved by any human enterprise. The reason for my lack of doubt is called Occam’s Razor.

Occam’s Razor is a general rule of logic, the idea being that when you have to choose between a number of explanations, the simplest one – the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions to support it – is the most reliable.

There are many websites devoted to the idea that the Apollo moon missions – if not the entire U.S. space program – were a hoax. I will not list all the arguments here; you can find them easily enough if you are interested (or more likely, if you are really bored). The most obvious weakness of these theories is that they fail the test of Occam’s Razor. They depend on many more assumptions without evidence to support them – let alone the fact that they fail to explain how GPS works if we never went into space. But the thing that annoys me the most about these people is the way they disrespect all the courageous astronauts who risked their lives – and a few who lost their lives – for the sake of lifting a nation’s eyes and spirits to the stars. I wonder if they would have the nerve to look Buzz Aldrin in the face and call him a liar. Somehow I doubt it.

Do Things Really Look Different From "Down Under"?

I wish I could answer this question from experience. When I was ten years old, a neighbor lent me a book called The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill – Blinky Bill was a koala – , and I fell in love with Australia. It would be truer to say I fell in love with the stories about Blinky Bill and his marsupial friends, because they were all I knew about Australia. It’s a good book. It made me want to go off and explore Australia immediately – a desire which, regretfully, I have never had the opportunity to indulge. Still, the Land Down Under has always had a special place in my imagination since then.

Most of us have heard that water goes down the drain one way (counterclockwise) in the Northern Hemisphere and the opposite way (clockwise) in the Southern Hemisphere. This is supposed to be due to the Coriolis Effect. To be very brief, the Coriolis Effect is the way the Earth’s rotation makes large bodies of fluids – like water and air in the oceans and the atmosphere – start to spin. The Coriolis Effect is what causes hurricanes to form. But it does not affect the way water goes down a drain in either hemisphere. The amount of water in a bathtub or toilet is too small to be affected by Coriolis forces. You can prove this yourself by filling the sink a few times and watching it drain. Sometimes the water will start to rotate, and sometimes it will just drain away with no spinning motion at all. You can run a finger around the drain clockwise to start a clockwise rotation, or make it drain counterclockwise if you like. It will not change due to the Coriolis Effect.

Tropical cyclone storms are another matter. These rotating storm systems (called “hurricanes” around the Americas and “Typhoons” around Asia) form because of the Coriolis Effect, and they turn counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise south of the equator. The huge amounts of air and water involved are affected by Coriolis forces, unlike draining water in a sink or tub.

What else looks different in the Southern Hemisphere? If you watch the moon change phase throughout its cycle, you will notice that the change happens from right to left. (Click here for a really good animated model.) In the Southern Hemisphere, the pattern is reversed: the phases change from left to right! This would seem very strange to me. Maybe someday I will get to visit Australia and find out for myself!

Another thing that looks different from the Southern Hemisphere is the starry night sky. Since the Southern Hemisphere looks out on space in the opposite direction from the Nothern Hemisphere, the field of vision is completely different. Near the equator, the view from either hemisphere is most similar, but the difference increases the farther you go toward either pole. (Click here for a great map of the stars from both hemispheres.)

It will never be the same to see something online as it would be to see it with your own eyes. I have always enjoyed traveling and hope to keep discovering and exploring new places as long as I live. St Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” How true.

Does Water Evaporate When the Sun Isn't Shining?

Everybody knows how quickly a puddle of water evaporates from the sidewalk on a hot summer day. But does water evaporate at night, or when it’s cool and cloudy?

Let’s look at what evaporation is. Liquids can change states of matter and become gases by absorbing energy. This can happen in two ways. If the entire liquid is heated (like a pot of water on the stove, the molecules throughout the liquid move faster and separate, forming bubbles of gas. If you watch water heating in a pot, you will notice that the bubbles come from the bottom of the pot because that is the part closest to the heat source. We call this “boiling”.

Evaporation is different. It only happens at the surface, where the liquid comes into contact with air; being a gas, the air has a higher level of energy, which the liquid can absorb. This happens not because of the presence of air, but because of the higher energy level at the surface. On the Moon, for example, there is no liquid water. There is water ice in some of the deep craters where the Sun never shines; the temperature here is about -249°C (-416°F), far below the freezing point of water (and most other substances as well). But if you could stand in such a crater and kick a lump of ice into the sunlight, it would not melt; the strong radiation from the Sun – without any atmosphere to reduce its glare – would vaporize the ice immediately.

So water evaporates at night, and in the shade, as long as the temperature is above freezing (0°C / 32°F). But it evaporates faster the higher the temperature is, and very slowly if it is cold.