Space exploration has always been a magnet for theories of disinformation and conspiracy. If you don’t want to be fooled, here are some myths you shouldn’t fall for.
Many countries have dedicated decades and huge amounts of money to space exploration, for the simple purpose of getting to know the universe, the solar system we inhabit and, of course, our planet better.
As a result, a wide variety of missions have been carried out, some including human missions, and others completely dependent on robots, satellites, telescopes, and other similar types of equipment.
But in general, space exploration is a very complex subject, of which the majority of the public ends up knowing only the most superficial. For example, you’ve probably read about launching a ship on more than one occasion, but you may not have known the reasons for the mission in question.
The same applies to all the work done on the International Space Station: we all know that there are people living on the Station, but not everyone is aware of the reasons why such missions are carried out.
This is not because the information is not available. In fact, NASA, ESA and virtually all space agencies make a large amount of information available to the public about each mission.
Thanks to this, it is possible to find all kinds of data about space exploration. From detailed scientific information on the analyses made by Mars rovers to spacecraft projects or recorded astronaut conversations.
But logically, to find this kind of information you need to know where to look for it, and it is not always easy to find it. It often means knowing the websites of space agencies, or their communication departments, and that is not easy.
Unfortunately, this makes it very easy for those who want to distribute scams, disinformation and myths. A small clickbait and data from non-existent sources make scientific data easily misrepresented.
And this has led to the creation of a series of myths about space exploration, based more on conspiracies than science. If you want to know some of these myths so as not to fall into them, we’ve compiled some of them into this list.
If something explodes in space, you can hear it
We must begin by admitting that this myth is more the fault of the film industry than pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Many films, especially science fiction films, have shown explosions in space accompanied by real thunder.
But the reality is that hearing something in space is much more complicated than it may seem. Logically, we are not referring to sounds inside a ship, capsule or the International Space Station itself, but to sounds outside the Earth and any structure created by humans.
Of course the sound exists in space. But to understand why we cannot hear it in the partial emptiness of space, it is necessary to understand the sound itself, and know how it behaves.
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Simply put, sound consists of vibrations that travel in the form of waves. In order to perceive these vibrations, vibrant particles must have a medium through which they can be transmitted, whether air, or liquid or solid substances.
The problem is that in space, all that is missing. Not because there is an absolute vacuum (in space there is gravity, accumulations of different gases, particles…) but because there is too much space without enough molecules for the vibration to travel.
So, basically, when something produces sound in space, this sound has no way to move, and so we can’t perceive it. No matter how loud a sound is, and even if it comes from an explosion, it would face the same problem.
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And maybe it’s better that way, otherwise the space would be too noisy. For example, planets and stars would generate a lot of noise simply by their movement and internal processes.
In fact, NASA and ESA scientists have transformed some of our sun’s natural vibrations into the sound they are equivalent to, in order to better study our star.
It may sound almost pleasant, but if we heard that noise throughout our lives, along with hundreds of other sounds coming from space, it could be quite annoying.
Human beings never reached the moon
This is probably one of the most popular myths about space exploration, and you have probably heard it from fans of conspiracy theories: some believe that the arrival of humans on the moon never happened.
As you probably already know, in July 1969 NASA brought humans to the surface of the Moon for the first time. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had managed to put manned modules into orbit of the satellite, but stepping on the surface was a pending task until then.
And the Apollo 11 mission took care of that. The astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins left our planet in a Saturn V rocket, and a few days later they arrived at the Moon and began to put it into orbit.
To accomplish the mission, the ship was prepared to be divided into two modules: the Columbia control module and the Eagle drop module. Collins stayed at Columbia, while Armstrong and Aldrin went up in the Eagle module, and went down to the moon inside it.
Once these two astronauts set foot on the moon, they didn’t just fly a flag and go for a walk. In fact, Aldrin and Armstrong spent almost a whole day on the lunar surface, and spent part of that time taking photographs and collecting numerous samples that they brought back to Earth.
There are numerous tests to prove the veracity of the mission. To begin with, as we mentioned, numerous samples were brought back from the lunar surface. Several things were also left behind, including an American flag and a commemorative plaque.
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But more importantly, the first mirrors of the so-called Retro-reflector Laser, a system of laser reflectors that allow measuring the exact distance from the Earth to the Moon, were installed.
In fact, if you have a powerful enough laser, a good telescope, and know where to aim, you can see how these mirrors return the laser beam. The Apollo 11 mission was not the only one to leave these mirrors on the Moon, but it was the first.
Those who think that the trip to the moon was a montage insist that everything was recorded, and that there are errors in the recording that prove it. But all these alleged errors have been explained by evidence countless times.
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For example, some argue that the flag should not have been flown. The reality is that the flag was mounted on a series of metal rods, designed to keep the flag unfurled, since on the lunar surface a normal flag would only have fallen. And the flag only moved when the astronauts themselves touched it.
And another common argument is that in the images you don’t see stars in the background. But anyone with a minimal knowledge of photography will understand why: the camera exposure was adapted to capture the lunar surface illuminated by the sun, and the astronauts’ bright suits. But it was not enough to capture the stars in the background.
It is, as we say, a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly refuted. And in fact, after the Apollo 11 mission, ten other astronauts have stepped on the surface of our satellite in the years and missions that follow.
In the vacuum of space, an unprotected human being would burn
The theory of this myth says that if you are in space outside a ship and have no protection (either because you were expelled from a watertight compartment or because the astronaut’s suit has a big tear), you would burn alive. Although some versions also say it would explode.
The reality is much more complex, and probably much worse when it comes to making a mental image of it. There are so many elements in space that are hostile to human beings, and would be lethal in a few minutes.
The first cause for concern would be oxygen. It would take about fifteen seconds for the human body to consume all the oxygen accumulated in the circulatory system, and then fainting spells would follow.
And holding your breath would be a terrible idea. Without pressure on the outside, the gas in your lungs would begin to expand, taking up more and more space. And this would eventually cause ruptures in your lungs. So, your best option would be to release all the air as soon as you were in space without any protection.
Another important point is radiation. On Earth we are protected from various types of radiation by the atmosphere and the magnetosphere, both acting as filters. But in space, we depend on ships and suits with adequate protection.
Without these safety measures, we would be exposed to extremely high temperatures that could cause burns. But at the same time, the body would progressively begin to freeze.
And if all this doesn’t seem enough, the water that is in all the composition of our body (and that includes the organs and the blood) would start to evaporate due to the lack of atmospheric pressure.
Basically, all that water would boil inside your body. Consequently, the tissues and the skin would begin to swell, and if not remedied quickly it would go into shock. Although with a quick intervention, the damage would be completely reversible.
As surprising as it may seem, this knowledge is not merely theoretical; NASA has witnessed something like this. In 1966, during tests in an airlock, the astronaut suit worn by Jim LeBlanc, a technician and test subject, leaked, and he fainted in seconds.
LeBlanc recovered as normal pressure and was restored to the chamber in seconds. But she described feeling her saliva bubbling, and became the only person to survive near-vacuum pressures in history.
Going through an asteroid field would be very difficult
This is another one of those things that ended up being distorted in our minds because of numerous films. It probably has an image of the Millennium Falcon passing through an asteroid field and barely escaping many impacts.
But there is little in this realism. In fact, we have sent numerous ships through various asteroid belts without any problem, since their characteristics are very different from those shown in the movies.
To begin with, each time we send a probe beyond Mars, it must pass through the asteroid belt between the red planet and Jupiter. And it’s not a big problem because most of the asteroids and bodies that make up that belt are too far apart from each other, literally miles away.
This area is not the only area of our solar system full of asteroids and other bodies of various sizes. The Kuiper belt would also be a major obstacle if the asteroid fields were as shown in the movies.
Today, dozens of probes have passed through these two belts without problems, because, as we say, the distance between all the bodies of these belts is enormous, and they are not a real problem.
In fact, there are things more worrying than an asteroid for any ship or probe. Of course a collision would be a catastrophe, but at the speed these ships go, something a few centimeters in diameter, or even millimeters, could cause a hole in the hull with catastrophic consequences.
The moon has a dark side
A mixture of misinformation and misinterpretation of data has led some people to believe that the Moon has a dark side, that is, a side that is never illuminated by the Sun.
But this is not at all true, and it is mainly due to the lack of understanding of something else: from the Earth we see only one of the faces of the Moon, due to the speed at which this satellite develops its rotation and translation in relation to the Earth.
This means that for centuries humanity could only look at the face of the moon that always looks towards our planet. In 1959, the Soviet probe Luna 3 sent humanity the first images of the face that had been hidden from us until then.
But, as we say, it is hidden as a result of its rotation and translation in relation to the Earth, it has nothing to do with whether or not it receives light. In fact, it goes through exactly the same phases of the moon as the face that comes from Earth.Therefore, this is not the dark side. It goes through periods of absence of new moonlight, but also periods of full moon, waxing and decline. It receives light, we simply cannot see it from our planet. More than a dark side, it is the hidden side.