Now that the viewer feels suitably ashamed and humble before God,
A Funny Thing can hurry through the supposedly factual evidence
for its claims. It begins with the Van Allen belts, which we cover in
a separate page.
The Van Allen belts
start at an altitude of 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
That's what is claimed in the film, and that's what appears on
Bart Sibrel's web site.
Fig. 1 -Bart Sibrel's webpage as it appeared on 22
March 2004, indicating the Van Allen belts start at 1,000 miles
(1,600 km). www.moonmovie.com)
But elsewhere on the site Mr. Sibrel suggests a different altitude.
Fig. 2 -Another page on Sibrel's site saying that the
space shuttle encountered Van Allen belt radiation at only 400 miles
(650 km). www.moonmovie.com)
Which is it? To be sure, the typically cited lower altitude of the inner Van Allen belt
is 400 miles (650 km) while portions such as the Southern Magnetic
Anomaly dip to a mere 250 miles (400 km) above the surface. But why
give one altitude in one circumstance, and another in another
By claiming that the Van Allen belts don't begin until 1,000
miles, A Funny Thing can make the case that no manned missions
other than Apollo have gone into them. This makes Apollo unique in
the claim to have gone there. But if a more reasonable altitude of
400 miles is given, Sibrel can point to certain recent effects such as
light flashes that would seem to
substantiate the supposed danger of the Van Allen belts. This
discrepancy demands a reconciliation. Sibrel simply gives whatever
figure is convenient to his argument at the moment.
Fig. 3 -Artist's concept of the Soviet Zond 5 spacecraft,
which carried living organisms through the Van Allen belts and
around the moon in 1968.
Nor does Mr. Sibrel explain why only "heavy lead shielding" would
protect astronauts from the effects of the Van Allen belts. Lead will
certainly work, but lighter elements work better. Not all radiation is created equal.
The question Sibrel doesn't answer is how exactly Apollo was
supposed to have fooled the Soviets on this point. Zond 5 flew
turtles around the moon and back in 1968, returning the turtles alive
and safe to Mother Russia -- without six feet of lead (Figures
3, 4). And the basic designs for the Apollo command module were
easily available to American schoolchildren and therefore to Soviet
agents. A Funny Thing argues that Apollo was a grand deception
to fool the Soviets, but fails to answer why the Soviets would have
believed a thin-hulled spacecraft safely passed through radiation they
themselves had measured.
Fig. 3 -The Zond 5 spacecraft on display at Orevo,
Russia. (Julius deRoo)
The answer, as usual, is that neither Sibrel nor any of his
conspiracist colleagues knows the first thing about protecting
spacecraft and crews in space. That's why A Funny Thing
overreacts to a CNN report of ominous-sounding "killer electrons" that
threaten astronauts. Sibrel makes it sound as if radiation in space
was a shocker to NASA in the 1990s. The number of spacecraft sent
aloft between 1958 and the late 1990s to characterize and measure
space radiation is a list too long even to summarize. In line with
his colleagues, Sibrel invokes the standard Radiation Boogey Man
without ever once giving a single number or concrete comparison.
Fig. 4 -The crew of Gemini 10 photographed their Agena
docking target, whose engine boosted them into the inner Van Allen
Gemini 10 ascended to 475 miles (765 km), well into the lower
reaches of the Van Allen belts, and Gemini 11 even higher -- other
facts Mr. Sibrel ignores. Radiation affects electronics too, and we
have sent thousands of pounds of electronics into the Van Allen belts
and expected them to do useful work for many years in those
circumstances. The companies who make those electronics are very
interested in knowing just how strong the Van Allen belts really are.
And let's not forget the light
flashes. Sibrel makes a big deal out of the shuttle astronauts
having seen them in an unusually high orbit, and wonders why they were
never seen by Apollo astronauts. (Hint: they were, and extensively
studied.) Not only has Sibrel been caught ignoring history
again, he has created a contradiction. He says NASA was smart
enough to forbid the astronauts from pretending to have taken any
pictures of the stars, in case their fabricated details wouldn't match
those that came later. But he doesn't explain why NASA shuttle
astronauts were allowed to reveal a detail that should have been
revealed earlier by NASA Apollo astronauts.
A Saturn V launch is 95%
similar to launching an ICBM.
No source is given for this claim. The Saturn V was built
precisely because NASA was tired of trying to fly into space on
converted ICBM boosters. We suppose Sibrel is trying to create some
sort of connection to all the miscellaneous rocket failures he showed
us earlier, saying that if those rockets couldn't fly, then we
shouldn't expect the Saturn V to fly either. But in fact the previous
NASA manned rockets were glorified and enhanced ICBMs -- rockets
originally designed to be produced in great numbers and only to lob
bombs at enemies. The Air Force knew that a few ICBMs out of the
whole fleet would probably fail in some way due to engineering
inexactness, which was why multiple missiles were assigned to each
target. Anyone who makes a product knows that going from 99%
reliability to 100% reliability is always disproportionately difficult
and expensive. Better to accept the failure of the 1%.
The Saturn V, in contrast, was the first NASA rocket intended
by design to carry humans, and therefore no catastrophic
failure was considered acceptable. As such it was highly redundant,
meticulously tested, consummately fault-tolerant, and highly
instrumented and automated. It was a well-funded, well-tested rocket
designed to carry humans into space -- every time. It's much easier
and better to design safety and reliability into a product in the
early stages rather than try to make an existing design safer after
the fact than the original designer intended.
Mr. Sibrel claims the Apollo astronauts never left Earth orbit.
He wants us to believe the Van Allen belts kept them from doing this,
but he also wants us to believe that America simply lacked the
expertise in rocketry to go that far. This is another contradiction;
Sibrel obviously doesn't understand what rocket reliability means.
Getting to Earth orbit isn't any different than going to the moon, in
terms of booster reliability. In Sibrel's montage the rockets explode
seconds after ignition. In that case it doesn't matter whether the
rocket was bound for the moon for low Earth orbit. By accepting that
the astronauts made it at least to Earth orbit, Sibrel undermines his
own "bad rockets" argument.