Tag: space

There’s A “Bermuda Triangle” In Space

There’s an area of space called the South Atlantic Anomaly, or the SAA, where the Earth’s magnetic field is significantly weaker, allowing solar and cosmic radiation dangerously close to the atmosphere. From the beginning of the space age, it has caused issues with satellites and astronauts as they passed through it, with some satellites actually being destroyed because of it.

But… why is it there? What causes it? And should we be concerned about it?


Humans have known about the geomagnetic field for at least 2400 years with compasses and navigational equipment. But it was only mapped for the first time in 1701, by Sir Edmond Halley, the comet guy.Humans have known about the geomagnetic field for at least 2400 years with compasses and navigational equipment. But it was only mapped for the first time in 1701, by Sir Edmond Halley, the comet guy.

To make his map, Halley sailed the Atlantic for nearly 2 years and collected observations at 170 locations
Scientists these days make maps using complex instruments on the ground and in space, but they have to be careful about those space based observations
Because there’s one region of the Earth’s magnetic field that’s particularly dangerous to pass over. It’s this one spot where the field is particularly weak and has had consequences for satellites from the beginning of the space age. It’s known as the South Atlantic Anomaly.


The oldest detection of the South Atlantic Anomaly — or SAA — I could find is from August 1960
A team of scientists at the Lebedev Institute of Physics, Moscow noted “intense charged particle flux” at 300 kilometers over the southern Atlantic Ocean
The satellite that registered the flux counted 100 times more particle collisions than in regions outside
300 kilometers is much closer to Earth’s surface than most of the inner Van Allen Belt – The altitude of the belt varies, but it typically goes no lower than 600 kmWhy is the SAA an exception?
It’s because for some reason the field strength right here is weaker, bottoming out around 22,000 nanoteslas, which is  about half the typical strength at that latitude
Weaker geomagnetism means high-energy particles can get closer to Earth before they’re deflected by the magnetic field

A weak field means a lower Van Allen Belt, and more energetic particles
Since it was first detected in 1960, the belt has been detected as low as 200 km
You might be wondering if this spot is more dangerous for humans and, yeah, it is. Thankfully few humans need to go there – more on that in a second


What does need to go there are satellites – and this is a problem.
Communication and scientific satellites can be affected in this region, most commonly by Single Event Upsets, or SEUs.
This is when an energetic particle interacts with a satellite’s computer, which can  cause a discharge in computer memory
For us non-computer scientists, that means a small amount of information stored in the computer is lost
To get slightly in the weeds for a second, computers store information as bits — ones and zeroes

These bits are combined to represent documents, videos, and anything else stored on the computer
In a satellite, a bit might be part of instructions for how to relay a TV signal or how to burn fuel to stay at the right height
So you can see why losing part of that information would cause problems, not just in keeping it from operating correctly but just staying in orbit.
But this is a known problem, so some manufacturers add shielding to protect against SEUs, but this can get expensive, and adds weight.


So more often than not, satellites that pass over the SAA have to compensate for SEUs in another way
Depending on the satellite’s mission, this might involve checking data against a backup – Sometimes whole backup computers are built into a satellite
Other times, all that’s necessary is a little common sense
Landsat, a type of mapping satellite operated by the US Geological Survey, occasionally show spots of bright white on its photos, sometimes followed immediately by a dark spot.
This means that a particle oversaturated the camera’s detector. The white spot, the dark spot happens when the detector recovers.
But the Landsat operators know this, so they know they can discard the affected part of the image.

By the way, here’s a map of where Landsat SEUs have occurred. That big blob of red and yellow dots is inside the South Atlantic Anomaly.

Another strategy used by satellites is to power down sensitive equipment
All but one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s cameras are regularly powered down for this reason. Hubble actually spends 15% of its time over the SAA
Pictures from the camera that stays on are often affected by particle impacts, but operators expect this, they consider it a small price to pay for extra uptime


In fact, they’re a steal compared to the problems the SAA has caused for other satellites
In 2016, the Japan’s space agency JAXA lost a $270 million x-ray telescope called Hitomi. Probably because of the SAA.
An SEU, or something like it, made the satellite lose orientation. And when it tried to rotate back into position, it went out of control and spun itself to pieces
I should mention here that that’s an extreme case. Not all satellites have to pass through the anomaly and most that do make it out all right. And most cases of SEUs just cause minor problems. It’s not like this is the Bermuda Triangle or something.

Although, I covered the Bermuda Triangle and proved that it’s not any more dangerous than the rest of the ocean. So maybe this is like the Bermuda Triangle.
But this actually is slightly more dangerous. So maybe this is more of a Bermuda Triangle than the actual Bermuda Triangle.
Oh no, I’ve fallen down a logic spiral. Which is the Bermuda Triangle of sanity!
Anyway, satellites are one thing, but what about people passing through the anomaly?


Because they do. Quite often. In fact, the International Space Station passes over it 3 to 4 times a day
ISS orbits between 330 and 435 km, so it does dip into the inner Van Allen Belt

But only a little. And it’s fast, so it’s only over the SAA for 3 to 5 minutes per pass
Still, the space station is exposed to higher levels of radiation during that time
So the hull provides some protection for astronauts and equipment, water stored in racks around the walls provide more
Water is actually a better shield than some types of metal, as it contains more particle-blocking nuclei
Long term studies show that ISS astronauts receive about 0.3 Sievert per year of radiation. That’s 60 times the average dose of a person on Earth; well shy of a fatal dose, but still significant.
Even mild radiation exposure over time can increase the risk of cancer. Standards at NASA allow for increasing that risk by no more than 3% over a career
No ISS astronaut has reached the limit and so far, none have shown evidence of radiation having a dramatic effect on their health


But they have made some interesting observations. And by that I mean, sometimes they see things.
You’ve probably heard of the strange flashes of light some astronauts have seen. These are thought to come from high-energy particles shooting through the eye
They were first observed on Skylab, circa 1974, and were especially common during flyovers of the SAAh

Don Pettit, inventor of the zero-g coffee cup, described his experience with SAA flashes in a 2012 blog entry:“As we pass through this region, eye flashes will increase from one or two every 10 minutes to several per minute.”

I don’t know about you but I’m paranoid enough that that would FREAK ME OUT.
But… Why? Why is this here? What causes this?


Before I answer, let’s go back to Edmond Halley for a minute
To make his map of magnetic field lines, the famous stargazer took three different measurements: Latitude, longitude relative to London, and magnetic declination
That last one’s the kicker
Simply put, magnetic declination is the difference between true north and magnetic north
It’s also known as “compass variation” since it tracks the angle between north on a compass and the North Pole
If you thought that angle was zero, don’t feel bad, most people do. But in fact,  Earth’s magnetic axis is about 9.41 degrees from the rotational axis — note that this is the ref that gives 11 percent as an approximation in #1…looks #6 gives updated numbers for 2020, but please check my reading

Interestingly, I talked about this a little bit in my Bermuda Triangle video, too. It’s one of the explanations for it. See, it all comes back around…
By the way, you might see different numbers online, that’s because the magnetic axis shifts. It can actually move up to 55km a year.

So if you imagine the magnetic axis were a simple bar magnet, it wouldn’t lie in the dead center of Earth, it would have to be several hundred kilometers off-center. (a beat) Also magnetic north is technically a magnetic south pole, but I think we’re confused enough.

Point is, there are different theories to explain why there’s this difference in angle. The most accepted one has to do with how the geomagnetic field is generated


Earth’s inner core is thought to be a sphere of solid iron. Or at least it used to be, recent models suggest it may be mix of materials in what they call a superionic state.
(over graphic or animation)This solid or semi-solid inner core has a diameter of about 2400 km. Surrounding that is a thick outer core — 2200 km thick. This is thought to be mostly liquid iron and nickel.

And it’s the movement of that liquid that generates most of Earth’s magnetic field. But… it’s not the perfect sphere we usually see it depicted as.
Nope, it’s lumpy. And bumpy.
And because of that, the magnetic field it generates is lumpy and bumpy as well. Meaning different intensities of field strength in different places.
The SAA is one of those places, specifically an area of low strength…possibly due a notable bump.
We have made maps of the core using seismic data that does show two large blobs deep below the SAA. So there you go.


An interesting theory came out last year in 2021 that these bumps were actually caused by the Theia collision 4.5 billion year ago.
The Theia impact is also thought to be what stirred up the core and gave us a nice strong magnetic field in the first place.
But its thought that pieces of Theia became embedded in the core, causing the lumps that created the Anomaly.
But there are problems with this theory, notably the blobs of Theia appear to be under the Pacific, so why isn’t there a Northern Pacific Anomaly?
It’s still very much up for debate but it’s an interesting thought that we have satellites being slapped out of the sky by what is essentially the ghost of a dead planet. Sleep tight, kids.


One last thing to mention, I talked about how magnetic north is moving a minute ago, well, over the last century, it’s also been getting weaker
Measurements from 1850 onward indicate it could completely decay in 1300 years

The study of magnetic traces in ancient minerals indicates that over time, the geomagnetic field can reverse. North can become south. Up becomes down. Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!”
Yes, the poles flip from time to time, in fact it’s happened 183 times over the past 83 million years
It’s possible the current weakening of the magnetic field means we’re heading for another reversal. You might have heard about this in clickbait headlines. But this is conjecture
Despite the weakening trend, the present field is still relatively strong compared to values it’s had over the past 50,000 years.


But this weakening has led to changes in the South Atlantic Anomaly. In fact, it’s been growing for the last 50 years.
It also appears to be splitting in two, forming eastern and western lobes
But, NASA and other space agencies are keeping a close eye on it, there are whole fleets of satellites monitoring the SAA and the geomagnetic field overall. And while they have been surprised by this, it seems to be more dynamic than they thought, there’s no real cause for alarm.
Despite what you might have read, a sudden geomagnetic flip is unlikely, and losing the field completely is more unlikely still.
The archaeological record shows countless changes and many reversals in the geomagnetic field
Life has always found a way



(4) NASA’s Original Post-Apollo Plans Were INSANE

In 1969, President Nixon created a commission to set the course for NASA’s Post-Apollo years. What they came up with was a bold, ambitious vision of the future. One with multiple space stations, moon bases, regular travel to and from space with airline-like frequency, and people on Mars in the 1980s.


Imagine you’re Richard Nixon.
Before all the scandals, you’ve just come into office, it’s January 1969 and NASA has spent the last decade working toward the goal of landing on the moon.
It’s hugely popular and was spearheaded by your predecessor, who made it his mission to carry out the wishes of his predecessor, who became a beloved national hero after he was freaking assassinated.

A guy who, by the way, beat you in your first presidential run because it was the first time debates were televised and he was charming and looked good on camera, and you’re Richard Nixon.
But now you’re president and you get to just walk it across the finish line and take credit. Noice.

Problem is… There’s not really any plan for what to do next. In fact, all the Saturn V boosters that had been contracted had already been made by 1968.
So… what do we do now?
You have to find, somehow, a vision for the next step in American space flight that’s as inspiring and galvanizing as LANDING ON THE MOON. And you’ve gotta get this right or your legacy will be tainted, and the last thing you want, Mister Nixon, is for your legacy to be tainted.

This must have weighed heavily on the actual Richard Nixon because one of the very first things he did in office was to appoint a Space Task Group headed up by his VP Spiro Agnew.
This team of scientists, engineers, and bureaucrats got in a room and put together a bold, ambitious plan for the 70s and 80s that would shape the future of the space program. Almost none of it actually happened.

But what if it had? Today let’s take a look at this plan, what went wrong, and imagine the future that might have been.
When John F. Kennedy announced that the United States was going to the moon, it was pretty much a shock to everyone. I mean we had just launched the first person into space, now we’re going to land on the moon?
In fact, I think we have some footage of their reaction…
I mean… It never stops killing.

But for some people in the early space race, that goal was downright timid.
Werner Von Braun had his sights set on Mars going all the way back to his book Mars Project: A Technical Tale, where he outlined in detail what getting to Mars might look like, and this was back in 1948.
By the way, this book is available online, I’ll put a link down below… It is awesome.
His ideas were pretty out there but you can clearly see the way his vision for Mars influenced the space program AND science fiction.
I mean, look me in the eye and tell me the X-wing wasn’t based on this.

And, um, Starship much?

And in no way was 2001 inspired by this massive spinning space station design from 1956.
Yeah, he was designing a space station to house 55 people 5 years before we even put a human into space. And to this day we’ve never had that many people in space at the same time.
And actually, you know what, let’s just stop the video for a second. Can we just stop and get something out of the way real quick? So this whole video is about visions of space travel that never came true, and there’s two opposite ways of approaching it, one is to laugh at how overly optimistic and naive they were back then – and they were, and you can have a good laugh about it.
The other way to look at it is… Man, space travel has been a huge disappointment.

I mean, for a while there we seemed on track, we went from never putting a person into space to standing on the moon in 8 years. Of course people in 1969 thought some of these ideas were feasible. Oh, and to quote myself from a previous video – pissing contests work.
By contrast, it took 11 years after the Shuttle program ended to find another American ride to space.
It also kinda blows my mind that the entire Apollo program took place over only 6 years. I mean no wonder nobody was paying attention by the time Apollo 17 went up, they were going up all the time. They were like Starlink launches, you couldn’t keep up with them.

The point is, there are two different ways of looking at this. And there are parts of me that agree with both. Was it a failure of foresight on their part or a failure of execution on the people who followed? You can kinda keep that in your mind as we look into this.
But back to Werner von Braun, I bring up some of his early ideas just to point out that, just because we didn’t have a specific plan for what to do after Apollo didn’t mean that people hadn’t been making plans. In fact Nixon’s Space Task Group had a deep well of ideas to pull from.

So let’s look at this thing. So first they go on for __ pages kind-of setting up the parameters for the plan, kind-of creating a framework of purposes and objectives and a bunch of bureaucrat-speak, I’ll link to this down below if you want to read the whole thing, it’s not that long but the meat and potatoes is in Section III, Goals And Objectives.
The first thing they do, after again reiterating the importance of creating a vision for the future, is promote what they call a balanced approach.

So they right away stress the importance of both manned and unmanned space exploration, which is probably important since they’re mostly talking about following up Apollo, which was a manned program, they wanted to make sure that unmanned exploration wasn’t left on the side of the road.
So, I’m just gonna get this out of the way, it’s generally more accepted today to say “crewed” instead of “manned” for obvious reasons but since they used the word “manned” in 1969, that’s what they used in this report so instead of switching back and forth, I’m just going to use the language that they used.
And right now there are two type of people in the comments, the ones who are pissed at me for saying “manned” and the ones who are pissed at me for acknowledging that it’s an issue at all. Because internet.

All right now that they’ve established the need for balance, they talk about the need for an overriding ambitious objective, something as powerful as landing on the moon.
Yep. They wanted to go to Mars.
Actually, they wanted to set as a long-term goal manned planetary exploration, and Mars was the first step in that direction.
They went on to explain that they chose Mars because it is the most Earth-like, is in fairly close proximity to the Earth, and has the highest probability of supporting extraterrestrial life.
They felt that a mission to Mars would be a galvanizing force for the public to get behind, it’s simple and easy to understand and hey, landing on the moon worked, why wouldn’t landing on Mars?

But they also thought it would help as a way to focus the scientific development.
They also detailed some of the advancements that would need to be achieved in order to get there.
All of this is ambitious but the most ambitious thing about this plan was the timeline.
Like, how fast did they think they would be able to land on Mars? Well here’s a hint, Kim Carne’s song Bette Davis Eyes was #1 on the Billboard’s hot 100.
And for Gen Z… 1981, they wanted to go to Mars by 1981. And the hot 100…nevermind.

They wrote: NASA has outlined plans that would include a manned Mars mission in 1981 with the development decision on a Mars Excursion Module in FY 1974,
So they were expecting to have the Mars lander designed and ready for production in just 5 years.
And this was just supposed to be the beginning of our interplanetary travel. I mean if they were expecting to be landing on Mars by 1981, I can’t help but wonder what they would follow that with. Venus? Jupiter’s moons? Titan? I can only imagine what they thought we’d be doing by 2022.

Anyway, now that we have the overarching goal of the program, they outlined a handful of program objectives. I’ll just give a quick rundown here:
First is Application of space technology to the direct benefit of mankind Air and ocean traffic control,  world-wide navigation systems,  environmental monitoring and prediction (weather, pollution),  earth resource survey communications
And they talk about how these capabilities would benefit people all over the world. And yeah… We have those things now. And I would argue the world is a much better place for it. So… that’s one prediction they got right.

Second is Operation of military space systems to enhance national defense
And they just talk under this one about how it’s incumbent on the US to dominate space in order to ensure peace throughout the world. Because obviously.
The third program objective is Exploration of the solar system and beyond.
This is dipping a wee bit into that “balanced” approach with manned and unmanned missions.
They divide this one into three main elements:

Planetary Exploration – Unmanned planetary exploration missions continuing throughout the decade, both for science returns and, in the case of Mars and Venus, as precursors to later manned missions.

See that’s interesting because it hints at a potential manned mission to Venus – probably using upper-atmosphere floating labs.
The program should include progressively more sophisticated missions to the near planets as well as multiple-planet flyby missions to the outer planets taking advantage of the favorable relative positions of the outer planets in the late 1970’s.
If that’s not ringing a bell, this is the Grand Tour of the Solar System they proposed when they saw a rare alignment of the planets; this became the Voyager missions.
Early missions to the asteroid belt and to the vicinity of a comet should be planned.
Again, things we’ve done.

The next element is Astronomy, Physics, the Earth and Life Sciences where they basically advocate for space telescopes, which we’ve done plenty of by now.
And the last element is Lunar Exploration. So no, they didn’t forget about the moon, all this we’re talking about is stuff outside of the obvious fact that we were going to continue going to the moon. Duh.
They proposed expanded mobility on the moon surface and establishment of lunar bases and a lunar space station. Which we’re starting to talk about again.
But it’s the 4th program objective where things start to get really saucy. This one reads Development of new capabilities for operating in space.

So right off the bat they address the biggest achilles heel with the Apollo Program:
Exploration and exploitation of space is costly with our current generation of expendable launch vehicles and spacecraft systems. This is particularly true for the manned flight program.
Yeah, turns out when only this part ever comes back to Earth, it’s not exactly efficient.

So with that in mind, they set three parameters for their plans: Commonality, Reusability, and Economy.
Commonality meaning using a few major systems for a wide variety of missions.
Reusability obviously means being able to use the same systems multiple times.
And economy not necessarily in terms of cost but in the terms of throw-away elements in the missions.
So, their plan to get us to Mars by 1981 while conforming to these principles looked like this.

The logic seems to be that if you are going to expand into the cosmos, you need to have sort-of an infrastructure in place.
And that infrastructure begins with waystations in orbit.
So they proposed the building of a multi-purpose space station module that can support 6-12 occupants and can be combined with other modules to form bigger space bases. Some of which are reaching Von Braun size.

But they didn’t have their eye on just one station, but a whole series of stations.
So in other words, multiple low-earth orbit stations but also a station further out in geosynchronous orbit and one around the moon.
I guess the idea being you can move people and cargo around between these various way points in space, and as the report suggests, out into the solar system.
Because obviously moving between the planets would take years of travel and you’d probably need something the size of a space station.
But yeah, in this vision there would be multiple space stations in LEO and GEO and at least one around the moon facilitating the movement of people and cargo on a regular basis from the ground on Earth to permanent bases on the moon.

But how do you transport this stuff between the stations? Well for that you’d need a kind of a… space transportation system.

For many of you the term Space Transportation System probably sounds familiar. And that’s because that was the official name of the Space Shuttle.
This is why Shuttle launches all had the prefix “STS” in it, that stood for Space Transportation System.
But in the Space Task Force plan, the Shuttle was just one part of a whole system of vehicles designed to “Carry passengers, supplies, rocket fuel, other spacecraft, equipment, or additional rocket stages to and from orbit on a routine aircraft-like basis.”
So when Elon Musk talks about how we need to make space flight as routine as air travel… Well he’s not the first person to say that.
The report described the Shuttle component as:

A reusable chemically fueled shuttle operating between the surface of the Earth and low-earth orbit in an airline-type mode. So this was the part of the system that got stuff off the ground and into orbit. Once in orbit, they proposed a different craft to move things around.
A chemically fueled reusable space tug or vehicle for moving men and equipment to different earth orbits. This same tug could also be used as a transfer vehicle between the lunar-orbit base and the lunar surface.

So this is kind-of like a shuttle that never has to launch off the ground or pass through any atmosphere so it was designed more like a giant can – you can see a similar idea in the Cygnus cargo spacecraft from Northrop Grumman.

There was a third component of this system though which kind-of sounds like a variation on the space tug idea, this one nuclear powered.
A reusable nuclear stage for transporting men, spacecraft and supplies between Earth orbit and lunar orbit and between low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit and for other deep space activities.  So this was based on the NERVA engine, which is a really interesting topic that probably deserves its own video, but this was heavily in development at the time and to many was the future of space flight, especially deep space.

NERVA stands for Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application, and it was what’s known as a thermal nuclear rocket, basically it used a nuclear reactor core to heat liquid hydrogen, causing it to expand, go flying out the flamey end and push the craft forward.
It had several advantages over chemical rockets, for one thing, hydrogen has a lower molecular mass than the oxygen and CO2 that comes out the butt of chemical rockets, which gives it more kinetic energy per unit of mass.

In other words it gets 3 to 4.5 times higher specific impulse than traditional chemical rockets.
You can think of them kind-of like ion engines, they’re not powerful enough to launch with but once in space, they can burn for way longer, giving more time to accelerate and eventually reach much higher speeds.

So nuclear rockets like the NERVA engine are especially good for long-distance and deep space travel. In theory.
I have to say in theory because it never flew. There were lots of tests done and it was determined to be ready to be put into a vehicle but it was cancelled in 1973. By Nixon.
But with the overriding goal of getting people to Mars, it makes sense that they would prioritize this because it could cut the length of the trip down to 3-4 months. But like I said, it deserves its own video because there were a lot of engineering challenges around it and ultimately it became a funding issue. To this day there haven’t been any nuclear thermal vehicles launched by anybody. Although there are some private companies working on it again.

The rest of the Task Force report focused on international cooperation and budget. And there was definitely a budget.
These were ambitious goals that would require ambitious spending. The task force wanted $6 billion, which was actually more than they were getting under Apollo.(Equals $46 billion today)
The 1969 budget for NASA was just over $4.25 billion, or 2.31% of GDP. But remember, all the vehicle construction was done by that point, it peaked in 1966 at $5.9 billion, or 4.41% of GDP.
So it wasn’t unheard of. When the US was pushing toward Kennedy’s big goal of landing on the moon, they gave NASA somewhat similar amounts of money. Now we had this bold plan for an entire space infrastructure, including moon bases and trips to Mars. Surely that was just as worthy of an investment.

Turns out… no.

Sure Nixon had inherited a space program at the very top of its game, but he also inherited the Vietnam War. And a financial downturn. And he was a fiscal conservative so, no, he was not about to give NASA more money than ever before.
Instead, NASA’s funding went down. By 1975, it was receiving less than 1% of the GDP. (.98%) In 2020 it was .48%.
So various parts of the plan got stripped away and the big bold vision got kinda lost to time.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a total bust. The Space Transportation System became the Space Shuttle, which; while it had its problems, is one of the most successful space vehicles of all time.

We didn’t get a whole bunch of space stations, but the space station idea stuck around and became Space Station Freedom in the 80s, eventually the ISS in the 90s.
They proposed landing on comets and we did that, they proposed sending probes to the asteroid belt, we did that (Dawn), they proposed the grand tour of the solar system. We did that. Twice.
They proposed Moon bases and landing people on Mars… We’re working on it.
What I find interesting about this whole period of the space program is how many things they kinda nailed. Sure their scope was wildly optimistic but the principles they espoused, the core tenants of reusability and whatnot, those are more relevant today than ever before. And we are kinda inching closer to their big vision. It’s frustratingly slow… But maybe we’re getting there.
But what if they had gotten their way? What if in some alternate utopian history we had spent the money on this instead of spending $10 billion a year on Vietnam? What would that look like? Where would we be today?

First of all, if any studio heads are watching, this would be an excellent premise for a movie or series, just saying.
If we landed on Mars in the early 80s and continued that same level of progress, we could have a small city there by now, at least a large base.
And we might have traveled beyond that in the solar system, maybe doing a crewed flyby of Venus, maybe asteroid mining would be more of a thing by now, starting to dip into The Expanse territory here…

We would definitely have a large presence on the moon, maybe a mature moon mining industry in place by now.
Or… it’s also possible that the entire thing backfires and winds up bankrupting the whole country. Although… maybe the opposite is true.
Some studies have estimated that for every $1 spent on the Apollo program $8 was made in terms of innovation, technology and job creation.
In fact, that’s the part of this question that’s really interesting, if we had continued funding the space program at Apollo levels up to today, what would technology look like? And how many new companies and jobs would have been created by that?

There’s also the question of how a program like that inspires people to go into science fields, apparently there was a massive spike in Ph.D’s after we landed on the moon. Who knows how that could have accelerated progress?
My writer Cooper took that $8 for every $1 spent metric and looked at what we would be spending if we had continued funding NASA at Apollo levels and estimated that it could have added more than $94 trillion to the economy.

That’s an interesting thought. Wildly speculative. But an interesting thought. The fact is, we don’t know what could have been. A lot of the advancements needed to make the Space Task Group plan happen couldn’t be solved by just throwing money at it.

There are a plethora of computer advances, materials advances and so on that need to happen before it can all come together in this way. Sometimes these things happen when they’re supposed to.
Maybe even with all the money in the world, we’d still be roughly where we are because this is the natural flow of progress. Many have argued that Apollo was kind-of a fluke and was way, WAY too early to actually be going to the moon.
Hell, I’ve made that argument. And I tend to agree with me.

But what do you think? Could they have pulled this off? Would it make the world a very different place? Talk about it down below.







The Van Allen Belts Are Dangerous – But Didn’t Keep Us From The Moon | Answers With Joe

The Van Allen Belts are areas of high radiation where solar particles have been trapped and accelerated by the Earth’s magnetic field. This has long been touted as evidence by conspiracy theorists that we couldn’t have gotten to the moon. But while the Van Allen Belts are dangerous, the tenacity and genius of NASA engineers literally found a way around them. Here’s how.


I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet. In fact, that’s when I spent the most impressionable years of my life, I was molded before the internet as we know it changed the world as we know it.
So sometimes I find myself fascinated with Gen Z because these guys did grow up with the internet and were molded in a completely different world from me, with any information or entertainment they could ever want instantly available at all times.
And I worry about all the misinformation on the internet and what that does to someone who develops their worldview in a hurricane of clickbait and deepfakes and conspiracy theories.
Like you hope that someone who grows up in it might be more saavy to it because they’ve never known a time when you could just take information at face value, so they’re more aware of the manipulation and aren’t as taken by it.
Or… could growing up in a time of information chaos lead to a total abandonment of the very concept of truth? Where the loudest voices win?
You want it to be the first one… Until you hear that there’s a growing conspiracy theory amongst Gen Zers that birds aren’t real. And then you start to think it’s the second one.
Only you would be wrong, it’s actually totally the first one.
Birds Aren’t Real is a satirical movement that claims that birds aren’t really animals but sophisticated drones that the government uses to spy on you.
They’ve been showing up at protests around the country, putting up billboards in major cities, and driving vans covered in conspiracy lingo.
But Birds Aren’t Real… Isn’t real.
It’s a parody, meant to highlight the absurdity of the conspiracy theories that seem to be taking over the country.
Like any good satire, it walks the line to where you might not know if it’s real or not unless you’re in on the joke. For the people who are in on the joke, it serves as a kind of release. A way to thumb their nose at something that they see as dangerously destabilizing to the world they’re inheriting.
And it kind-of backs up the old adage that you can’t reason with crazy, you can only out-crazy them.
Oh, so you think JFK Jr is going to return from the dead and he’s going to do it at the place where his dad was murdered? Okay, well I don’t think birds are real. Top that.
Like people always say if you encounter someone who thinks the moon landings were faked, you should just say, “oh, you believe in the moon?”
Except there actually are people who think the moon is actually an alien spaceship so… yeah…

Birds Aren’t Real

A (Hoax) Theory Is Born

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 lander touched down on the lunar surface. It was watched live by 652 million people around the world, which was 1/5th of the entire world’s population at the time.
And yet, here we are some 50 years later and 11% of the US population either strongly believe or somewhat believe that the moon landing was faked. That’s nearly 40 million people.
But here’s the thing… That’s nothing new.
In fact, a poll by Knight Newspapers just a year after the Apollo 11 landing showed that millions of Americans already doubted that it ever happened.
The major reasons given were that the US made it up to fool the communists or to justify the expense of the space program.
This was written about by self-published author Bill Kaysing in his book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle in 1976.
 Yeah… this was the first book that really caught fire in the moon landing denier world, but some of what he talks about in it… I guess are understandable considering the time.
This was the early 70s, the height of the Cold War, and Vietnam and Watergate had just shattered most Americans’ trust in their government.
So the idea that the moon landings were the shiny object they were using to distract people from “what’s really going on” is not hard to understand.

Climate of Doubt

For some people, it was easier to believe they’d been lied to than that the Eagle had landed.
And of course once you believe in a conspiracy theory, you see evidence of that conspiracy theory everywhere you look, and one thing that many moon landing deniers locked onto was the Van Allen Belts.
Earth’s magnetic field creates powerful rings of radiation that circle the planet known as the Van Allen Belts… Wait a second… If the Earth is surrounded by intense radiation, then there’s no way they went to the moon. Busted!
This has become one of the biggest pieces of “evidence” that moon landing deniers reference, and I’ve seen it brought up in my comments for years, even though it has been disproven a thousand different ways, it keeps coming back up. It seems to be one of the stickier elements of this particular conspiracy theory.
And I think that’s because there is an element of truth to it. The Van Allen belts do exist. And they are dangerous.
But pretty much everything about the Apollo missions were dangerous. And they were only overcome by the grit and determination and sheer genius of the NASA engineers and astronauts. They literally problem-solved their way to the moon.
And I think that’s why this conspiracy theory is so aggravating, it’s just totally urinating over the herculean efforts of hundreds of thousands of people to do this one amazing and inspiring thing. And it’s so cynical, we have this one great thing that we did, why do you have to…
Sorry… That was… Off topic, we’re talking about the Van Allen belts.

James Van Allen

The belts are named after astrophysicist James Van Allen, who was a cosmic ray expert from the University of Iowa.
In the late 50s, he worked with graduate students to develop the Cosmic Ray Instrument, which included a Geiger counter that could register protons and electrons above a minimum energy.
Rocketry was in its earliest years and they hoped to be able to launch this into space to gauge what the radiation looked like above our atmosphere.
This proved to be a challenge. But not so much a technological one but a political one.

Army v. Air Force

This was in the days before NASA, when rockets were strictly a military thing, and the various branches of the military were competing to be the first to put a rocket into space.
The main competitors were the Army and Air Force. And each had a secret weapon in their corner.
The Air Force had the U. S. secretary of defense on their side; he wanted them to control rocket design.
And the Army had NAZIS… (long pause) Guess who won?
Specifically Werner von Braun who yes, was a Nazi, but he was also a genius.
So the Army was actually making some great strides but because the DOD was kinda on the Air Force’s side, advancement was stymied by infighting and red tape.

Enter Sputnik

But on October 4, 1957… things changed.
The first Soviet satellite, Sputnik I, was put into orbit and the second those beeps started sounding over American heads, well that clarified some things.
The Defense department fell in line behind von Braun and gave him all the resources he needed to launch a satellite.
And to distance the project from military goals — in the public eye at least — the decision was made launch a civilian satellite, something that didn’t have a military objective.
And von Braun was given a deadline of 90 days to get this thing up into space so he didn’t care what it was as long as it was ready to go.
And one satellite that was ready to go was Van Allen’s Cosmic Ray Instrument, so it got picked and was renamed Explorer 1.
Quick side note, Van Allen himself was in Antarctica when he heard the news so he contacted one of his grad students named George Ludwig to deliver the satellite. Which he did… in the back of his car.
He literally loaded up his pregnant wife and two young daughters and drove 1600 miles to Cape Canaveral with Explorer 1 – the first American satellite to ever reach space – in his trunk.
But I guess it paid off because he later became a chief research scientist at NASA. Good show, old chap.
So anyway, Explorer 1 launched on January 31, 1958, the United States was officially in space, and there was much rejoicing. (yaay…)
But while Americans were high fiveing each other over this accomplishment, Van Allen and his team went about interpreting the data that was coming back. (grand gesture) and THIS was…  not when the Van Allen belts were discovered.
Actually they were really disappointed with the data because half of it was missing.

Space is Radioactive

Where readings should have been, there were long gaps where the detector didn’t pick up any particles. And they couldn’t quite figure out why.
So for Explorer Two, they added a magnetic recorder to keep a log of the detector’s measurements. Previously, they were just reading it live.
And THIS was… (down energy) not when they Van Allen Belts were discovered because Explorer 2 blew up (didn’t make it to orbit), but Explorer 3! Haha! Explorer 3 in March 1958, that one got up there and everything worked perfectly.
Same as the first time, there were giant gaps where the detector didn’t pick up anything, but this time they were able to pin those gaps down to specific locations in orbit.
At the same time they ran some tests on one of the Cosmic Ray Instruments and discovered that the effect could be simulated by bathing it in X-rays.
And THIS is… where he figured out that there were belts of intense radiation around the Earth, that’s how we got the Van Allen Belts.

Starfish Prime

So, what to do with this information? (thinking) Radiation belts… So many ideas… (idea) Let’s nuke it.
(sigh) Yeah, the US nuked the Van Allen belts in 1962.
It was actually part of a series of 5 atmospheric nuclear tests because that was a thing we just used to do.
But one particular test was called Starship Prime, and it was aimed at the Van Allen Belts.
They were testing to see if they could use the belts to create a radioactive shield that could protect targets on the ground from missile attack. It didn’t work. But the EMP from it did manage to disable 1/3 of all satellites that were in orbit at the time.

The Inner and Outer Belts

The inner belt extends from about 600 kilometers to nearly 10,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface, and it’s mostly made of protons.
Some have been stripped from the solar wind by the Earth’s magnetic field, while others are supplied by the upper atmosphere
The outer belt stretches from about 13,500 km to nearly 60,000 km, but this is highly variable, it kinda depends on how you measure it.
The outer belt especially can swell at times as low-energy electrons and other particles rush in, but that diminishes gradually, sometimes in a few minutes, sometimes it takes days.
And there are still a lot of questions around how exactly the belts work, but we do know the basics.
Earth’s magnetic field captures the particles and funnels them around the planet, kinda the same way particle accelerators and fusion reactors contain particles in a magnetic field.

And Other Surprises

But recent measurements by NASA’s Van Allen Probes has shown the belts are more dynamic than we thought.
In one observation period, a solar storm caused a surge of electrons in the outer belt
Five days after the energy dissipated, there was another major surge... but there wasn’t a storm this time. They don’t know what caused it.
The Van Allen probes also revealed the existence of a third belt. Briefly.
This one popped up in what they call the “slot region” between the inner and outer belts in 2012.
It existed for 4 weeks and then a shock wave from the Sun wiped it out. It’s never been seen again.
So yeah, the belts are super dynamic, they grow and change according to solar activity and other things we still don’t understand. And they are powerful. Any conspiracy theorist that says these are dangerous is absolutely right. But are they deadly?

How Deadly Are They?

Studies have shown that inside the typical shielding of a satellite, an astronaut could absorb as much radiation in an hour in the belts as most people absorb in eighteen months on Earth.
Scary… sure, but notice I said “survivors.” A fatal dose of radiation is far higher than that.
So talking about radiation measurements gets tricky because there are many different units scientists use but I’m going to try to stick to the Sievert, because that measures damage done to living tissue.
Symptoms of radiation poisoning appear at 400 millisieverts.
A dose above 2000 millisieverts can be fatal.
But even double that dosage is survivable, with treatment. I don’t recommend you try this.
With that in mind, an astronaut in our hypothetical spacecraft would absorb 6 millisieverts of radiation per hour. So not too bad.

Damage Over Time

But there is a catch — small amounts of radiation damage can accumulate over time.
According to the FDA, doses of 5 to 20 millisieverts of ionizing radiation may increase the risk of fatal cancer.
A typical CT scan can deliver a dose in that range, which is why doctors don’t give them to everybody.

Must Go Faster

So, obviously, you wouldn’t want to hang out in the Van Allen Belts any longer than you have to. Thankfully, rockets go really fast.
When we talk about how NASA minimized the risk to the astronauts, the first thing they did was to limit the time astronauts spent there.
When the Apollo astronauts entered the inner belt, they were traveling just over 38,000 kilometers per hour.
That means the trip through both belts was under two-and-a-half-hours long. Not great, not terrible.

Apollo’s Trajectory

But that’s not all they did to minimize exposure.
Long before Apollo 11, Van Allen and his team had mapped the radiation in the belts, and there are certain regions of the belts that are stronger than others. So they didn’t go through there.
Yes, they developed a complicated maneuver called (look at paper), Going Around It.

Average Mission Dosage

The next precaution they took has to do with the command module capsule.
So remember earlier when I mentioned how much radiation an astronaut would receive in a typically – shielded satellite? Well they weren’t in a typically-shielded satellite.
One of the mandatories of the Apollo command module was that they be engineered to survive the largest solar flare then on record.
So, special materials and coatings in the hull, water shielding, and even their suits provided a bit of shielding.

Solar Event Monitoring

And one last thing NASA did was they monitored the sun for solar events.
Like I said before, the size and strength of the belts fluctuate quite a bit. Usually due to solar activity.
So NASA created the Solar Particle Alert Network, or SPAN, which carefully monitored solar activity leading up to the missions.
They advise NASA on periods of high solar activity, so astronauts can be ordered to shelter in the shielded areas of spacecraft, which thankfully never happened on any of the missions.
Although there was a close call between Apollo 16 and 17 (August 1972) where radiation went as high as 4000 millisieverts.
But even if there had been some astronauts caught in that, the shielding would have reduced that dosage to 350 millisieverts, which according to a NASA news article, “That’s the difference between needing a bone marrow transplant, or having a headache.”
The crew of the Apollo missions carried personal dosimeters that measured radiation exposure from launch to landing.
And because of the efforts I just listed, the average dose ranged from a low of 0.18 rad on Apollo 11 to a high of 1.14 rad on Apollo 14.
As I mentioned before there are lots of different radiation measurements and rads don’t convert directly to Sieverts, but for reference, 70 rad is considered dangerous, while 120 rad can be fatal.
So, long story short, the Van Allen Belts are not as deadly as conspiracy theorists seem to think. NASA was well aware of their danger long before Apollo 11 took flight, and they took the proper precautions.
Of course if you’re dedicated to the conspiracy, none of this matters, these are all just lies to cover up the fraud and anybody and everybody who can validate these facts are in on the conspiracy. Including me.

Small Price to Pay

When it comes down to it, the Van Allen Belts are just one of MANY concerns to deal with regarding space travel, like orbital debris or thermal management.
They definitely put a limit on the altitude of crewed missions, but it’s not a danger to anything like the ISS, they orbit thousands of kilometers below the belts.
In fact, those dosimeters on the Apollo astronauts showed that they probably received twice as much radiation on the moon as a typical astronaut does in low Earth orbit.
So you might say the Van Allen Belts are a small price to pay for the protection of Earth’s magnetic field.

No Fatal Radiation

Moon hoaxers would of course move on to all the other “evidence” that has all been thoroughly debunked, I’m not going to spend time on any of those. And I’m sure that as we go back to the moon with the Artemis program, these theories are going to crop up all over again.
But I for one choose to celebrate the moon landing, and instead of focusing on all the things that might disprove it, focus on the amazing people who contributed to this program and tell their stories.
Like George Ludwig driving 1600 miles with Explorer 1 in his trunk, these people embodied the best of what it means to be human, doing whatever it takes to advance and explore and push past boundaries. Even massive particle accelerators in space.

Who Owns Space? | Answers With Joe

With more countries flying to space than ever and a private space race in full swing, the legalities around space and space resources are still very much up in the air. There are currently only a few treaties that guide space activity and they are woefully outdated. So that begs the question – who owns space?

Back in August I did a video about moon mining and how it’s very likely to become a thing and what kind of resources we could find and use there. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. It’s a banger.

But many of the comments touched on a very important issue, which is that we as human beings… suck.

Since the very beginning, we have taken this planet and put lines around it, and then defended those lines with countless human lives.

Sometimes we kill each other to push the line a little further just to make our slice of pie bigger, sometimes out of petty spite and politics but more than any other reason, we’ve fought over resources.

Oil, clean water, fertile land, minerals, gold, if it’s got value, we will find a way to get it. Usually through massive amounts of human suffering.

So yeah, now we’re tiptoeing off of this planet and finding new resources out in space, and it begs the question, how are we going to draw those lines? What comes next? And most importantly, is history about to repeat itself?

All right, so if we’re going to be talking about space resources and lines, let’s just start with the line that divides Earth from space. It’s a line you’ve heard about a lot lately with the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic launches, the Karman Line.

This is usually talked about as sort-of a petty, arbitrary thing, like it’s what determines whether or not you get a pin with astronaut wings, but in the discussion of who owns what in space, it’s actually somewhat consequential.

Consequential… But still arbitrary.
It’s considered the point where our atmosphere “ends” and space begins, and it lies at 100 KM (62 miles) above Mean Sea Level.

But if I may “Well Akshually” myself, the Earth’s atmosphere technically extends way beyond that, as far out as the moon, this is known as the “geocorona”

So yeah, this is just an imaginary line. We consider it the boundary between the disciplines of aeronautics and astronautics.

But it’s also another kind of boundary, at least it was meant to be.

Theodore von Karman, who the line is named after, said (paraphrased) the air above a country for 100km belongs to them, and above 100km is something akin to international waters.

Like you always hear about how a plane has entered another country’s airspace, well here is where that airspace ends. Because there’s no more air. There’s just space.

But yeah, space and the ocean are vastly different obviously but it’s helpful to think of it like that, legally space, meaning the area above the Karman Line, is basically international waters.

Following rules set up in the 60’s via the International Space Treaty, planets, satellites, and asteroids are claimed as neutral or Common Heritage, that they belong to all peoples of Earth.

Which is a beautiful sentiment. Almost Star Trekkien. Star Trek-ish? Of course Star Trek also had the Eugenics wars taking place in 1992 so…

The treaty also prevents the use of nukes or weapons in space, which is being tested quite a bit lately.

But the point of The Outer Space Treaty was, if we are going to space, we are going to space as a species, together. No nationalism in space.

And this is a rule we have always abided by.
Except… you know… Always.

But let’s talk for a second about Common Heritage. Common Heritage is the idea that there are some things that belong to all of us as a species, and inherently should not be controlled by any particular country.

Like the human genome, for example, the human genome is all of ours, we all own it. No nation or corporation can own the human genome. Doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

Looking at you 23 & Me…

And there are lots of areas on planet Earth that are considered Common Heritage, including
– International Seabed
– Under the International Seabed
– International waters above & below
– International Airspace

And this was the idea behind the Outer Space Treaty, that space would be categorized as common heritage, something we all own.

But maybe because we’ve learned a lot more about what resources exist out there in space, this idea has been withering away for a while now.

To that end, many parties to the Outer Space Treaty have been trying to alter it, none more so than the good ol’ U S of A.

Because everybody having something? That’s socialist. So we passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act or – because everything has to be an acronym – the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act.
(a beat)
You know, if congress spent half as much time governing as they do creating clever acronyms, we might actually get–

This act paved the way for companies like SpaceX and Boeing to privately ferry cargo and crew to the International Space Station and eventually, Boeing might actually do it.

But part of the bill specifically addresses the use of space resources, aiming to quote:

“…promote the right of United States citizens to engage in commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference,”

So of course, the hypercapitalist United States, (US flag) with our hypercapitalist president (Pic of Trump), is breaking with international Common Heritage treaties.

Oh, actually it was this hypercapitalist president. It was signed in 2015.

To be fair, there was more to that quote from the bill:

“…promote the right of United States citizens to engage in commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference, in accordance with the international obligations of the United States and subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the Federal Government.”

So, technically these private companies should be acting under the auspices of the international treaty but… some companies were working on this before the SPACE Act was signed.

One of those corporations is Moon Express, which has the simple mission of mining as much water on the moon as possible and selling it.

Bob Richards who owns Moon Express referred to water as the “oil of the solar system” and he’s not wrong. We’ve talked about this in various videos but water can be used not just for drinking but also fuel and oxygen.

In the far future as we expand into the solar system, the ownership of those water compounds will be a source of giant amounts of revenue.

Which is why, in 1979, the international space treaty was amended to include a section specifically about the moon.

In the Agreement Governing The Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, set forth by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, it states this about moon resources:

“An equitable sharing by all States Parties in the benefits derived from those resources, whereby the interests and needs of the developing countries, as well as the efforts of those countries which have contributed either directly or indirectly to the exploration of the moon, shall be given special consideration.”
Article 11 (7) (d)

Now if you think it’s hard to believe that the United States would sign on to this and agree to share moon resources with other countries considering we were the only country that had gotten to the moon, that’s because we didn’t sign it. We are not a party to that treaty.

One way to look at how we’ll probably approach space resources is analogous to the fishing industry.

If you are a shipping vessel you fly your country’s flag and must obey your country’s laws and whatever fish you get, you get to keep.

So Space Law is basically Fish Law. With just a touch of the Homestead Act of 1862.

Hashtag Spacefish.

So space resources are one thing. Space weapons are something else altogether.

First of all, space warfare is still going to take place here on Earth. Should we get into any real squabbles over space resources, we won’t be doing that fighting in space.

It’s just too expensive to fight in outer space (for now).
We can barely get a gallon of water to space cheaply, let alone a moon tank.

Who else wants to see a moon tank?

So I suppose it’s possible that as we get deeper into space resources, the US and the rest of the world will sit at the same table and work out a policy that will bring us all together to work for the common good. That would be nice.

Or we can do our own thing and start drawing invisible lines on regolith just like we’ve done here on Earth, which never really ended well.

Looking at you all the wars ever…

But the trend currently is toward something maybe even messier. And that’s private corporations mining and exploiting space resources.

Then we could get into hyper-megacorporations formed out of a Neo-Manifest Destiny.

Expanse much?

Because international law on this kind of thing is still stuck in the Cold War space race. There is no real enforceable legal framework behind this new private space race in terms of resource exploitation.

As we head back to the moon and set our sights on Mars and the asteroid belt, we’ll also be building a legal infrastructure as well. There’s gonna be a LOT of lawsuits going around.

And if lawsuits are what determines the future of space, I’d say Blue Origin’s got a leg up on the rest of the industry.


Seriously, if someone asked me what field of law they should go into, I’d say space law. It’s gonna get crazy in the near future.

By the way, one of the top schools in the world to learn air and space law is the International Institute of Air and Space Law in Leiden, in the Netherlands.

Just saying.

So, who owns space? Nobody… For now. And that’s okay… For now.

But as this major leap forward in space travel continues, and space resource technologies get proven out, it’s going to require some very difficult discussions about just who we’re going to be over the next couple hundred years.

Are we one people, one species? Are we a collection of countries and cultures? Or are we cogs in the wheels of galactic megacorporations? Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Why Go To Space – An Editorial

With the Inspiration4 mission in the books, hot on the heels of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic launching their first crewed missions, we’ve seen a bit of a backlash against this new space race. So today I just wanted to share my opinion on why space travel is important and the framing we’ve seen around these flights and these companies is misguided.

All opinions are mine (as of this recording anyway). Disagreements welcome.

5 Unsolved Space Mysteries

Space has been blowing our minds from the beginning. And yet it feels like every question we answer only brings up more questions. From evidence of a parallel universe to the young surface of Venus to everybody’s favorite, Omuamua, here are 5 space mysteries that have not yet fully been solved.

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