The claim that the Van Allen radiation belts were deadly is false, specious, a gross exaggeration, and simply not supported by the scientific data. Radiation was indeed a definite concern for NASA before the first space flights, and there were scientists who did say that it looked to be an insurmountable problem, but the agency and other scientific institutions invested a great deal of time conducting research into it and determined the hazard was minimal.
It took an Apollo spacecraft only a little less than an hour total, to pass through the worst part of the radiation belts twice - once on the outbound trip and once again on the return trip. Read that again. The combined time passing through the edges of the belts, once going outbound, and once coming back, was about one hour.
The total radiation dose received by the astronauts was about one “rem”. A person will experience radiation sickness with a dose of 100-200 rem, and death with a dose of 350+ rem. Clearly the doses received by any and all of the Apollo astronauts fall well below anything that could be considered a significant risk.
Despite claims that "lead shielding meters thick would have been needed" NASA found it unnecessary to provide any special radiation shielding, other than the construction of the Command Module. The Command Module pressure vessel was two layers of a specially-designed alloy of stainless steel, one layer of polymer honeycomb, and three more layers of aircraft aluminum, with phenolic resins in between each of these layers, along with four additional layers of mylar and kapton insulation and heat shielding. This does not count the resins used in the ablative head shield on the bottom of the spacecraft. The overall thickness of the walls of the Command Module was about 3 ½ to 4 inches thick, as it varied in places.
The total thickness of the walls of the Command Module is actually irrelevant, since lead or any of the heavier metals do not protect at all against the type of radiation of which the Van Allen belts consist. The aircraft aluminum-phenolic resins (which were specially designed to shield from the particular type of radiation found in the Van Allen belt) the Q-felt, and brazed honeycomb panels, and the fused-polymer/aircraft aluminum of the shell of the spacecraft were more than enough to adequately shield against the minimal radiation through which the spacecraft passed.
Given that the belts are toroidal (imagine that giant Cheerio around the equator) and that they extend out to an angular path of 26-28 degrees from a line drawn from the center of the planet through the equator, the trajectory of the spacecraft through the belts would not have taken the astronauts through the thickest part of the belt in the first place. Let me say that again. The trajectory of the spacecraft would not have taken astronauts through the thickest part of the Van Allen belt.
The Van Allen belts are not like a shell surrounding the planet, they are a fairly narrow band. They begin about 600 miles above the surface, and extend out to around 3700 miles from the surface. As they reach that outer distance, the amount and density of the radiation contained within the belts disperses and diminishes considerably.
Here’s the important part: Since the density of the belt is almost entirely non-existent on an angular measurement exceeding 28 degrees above the equator, and the translunar trajectory of the Apollo spacecraft were inclined a little above 30 degrees, (in addition to the tilt of the earth on its rotational axis of 23.5 degrees) that means every one of the spacecraft missed the region of radiation almost entirely. They only passed through the very edges of the things in the first place. That’s right, they missed almost all of the region of radiation entirely.
To monitor radiation exposure during the flights, Apollo crews carried dosimeters on board their spacecraft and on their persons. And these readings confirmed NASA had made a good choice. At the end of the program, the agency determined that its astronauts had avoided the large radiation doses many feared would ground flights to the Moon. In no case did any astronaut experience any debilitating medical or biological effects. This includes the three astronauts who flew to the moon twice: John Young, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan. All three are still alive, and all three are in good health, all showing no effects of going through the edges of the Van Allen belts four times each.
The claim of “deadly radiation” first appeared in the 1996 Fox TV program, and was a theory that was first promoted by that much-discredited hoaxer, Bill Kaysing. He was neither an engineer nor an expert in radiation. Dr. James Van Allen, the man who actually discovered the radiation belts in the late 1950’s, was a scientist, and knew more about the belts than anyone, because it was his life’s work. Dr. Van Allen wrote the following, and I quote: “The recent Fox TV show, which I saw, is an ingenious and entertaining assemblage of nonsense. The claim that radiation exposure during the Apollo missions would have been fatal to the astronauts is only one example of such nonsense.”
So if the guy that discovered the radiation belts in the first place says that it is nonsense, what makes you think that you, with not nearly the education or experience of the guy who discovered the things in the first place, knows more about it than he does?
Opinions do not trump facts. Especially not ignorant and uninformed opinions.
You don’t “believe” the Apollo program landed men on the moon? You either understand the science, or you don’t.
You clearly don’t.
3rd November, 2015 @ 7:36 p.m. (California Time)