Rest of the Best: 10 Best Urban Legends About NASA

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The fact that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is located here is a source of great pride to Houstonians. In addition to making us Space Lords (The second coolest type of Lords), it proves that we are a hub of innovation, science, engineering, and other things that only smart people get.

But like the meatheads who would shove the nerds around at school, some of the less intelligent or malicious folks out in the world show great umbrage at NASA. Since it is still impossible to wedgie a space command center, this jealous rage is usually expressed as unsubstantiated rumors on the Internet. Here are the best of the best.

10. The Great Wall of China Myth: One of the longest running urban legends about NASA is that they have confirmed that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. This is actually false on several levels. If by space you mean low orbit, then plenty of man-made objects are visible from space including the Pentagon and the Hoover Dam. The Great Wall, being little wider than a highway in most places, is actually barely visible from space.

The myth comes from a travel writer named Richard Halliburton who said in his 1938 book Second Book of Marvels, The Orient that astronomers theorized that the Great Wall was the only man-made object visible from the moon. You'll note by the date that this was long before anyone had been into orbit, let alone the moon. The fact is, no human construction is visible from the moon with the naked eye, as Apollo astronauts have conformed.

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TSA.gov
Image from an active millimeter wave body scanner
9. The Airport Bomb Exploding Scanner: Though it's usually attributed to Israeli airport security measures, occasionally an anonymous NASA engineer has been roped into the recent viral post about a new type of airport scanner. Instead of detecting explosive devices, the sealed cell actually detonates them and kills the alleged terrorist instantly.

Neither Israel nor a NASA engineer has developed any such scanner or device, nor is it likely they would. After all, how hard would it be for someone to slip a bomb onto an unsuspecting person?

8. NASA's "Don't Talk to Aliens" Law: America is really, really into the idea that not only is there intelligent life on other worlds, but that life has visited Earth and the government knows all about it. They just want to keep us in the dark, and seeing the way we react to a Black Friday sale I'm siding with Uncle Sam on this one assuming it's true.

One piece of evidence that UFO enthusiasts cite as proof of the conspiracy is a little known part of the Code of Federal Regulations. Title 14, Section 1211 empowers NASA to quarantine anyone that comes into contact with people or objects returning from space. It was a safety measure established during the Apollo 11 mission because though we assumed the moon was lifeless, it was impossible to know what microorganisms might possibly still be viable and return with our astronauts to Earth. Others of a more tinfoil bent assumed it was designed so NASA could keep little green men under wraps. Well if it is, it works very well.

This story continues on the next page.

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4 comments
rockyboyy
rockyboyy

Nobody shielded the electronics because space is a vacuum. Sure, there's rocket exhaust, but it disperses and can't do any harm, right? Well, the gas was electrically conducting and shorted out the electronics. NASA works because they've learned the hard way to be absolutely anal about stuff like that.

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dutchs1
dutchs1

#6. There's a brownish ring called Bishop's Ring that appears around the Sun after large volcanic eruptions. It's caused by sulfuric acid aerosols, so there's a nugget of truth there.


#10. Pencils are no more flammable than cloth or paper, both of which are used in space. But not only do pencil leads break, but graphite is an electrical conductor, and writing with a pencil, even without breaking the lead, liberates tiny graphite particles.


What harm can they do? Well, one Ranger moon probe in the 1960's failed due to shorting out. Nobody shielded the electronics because space is a vacuum. Sure, there's rocket exhaust, but it disperses and can't do any harm, right? Well, the gas was electrically conducting and shorted out the electronics. NASA works because they've learned the hard way to be absolutely anal about stuff like that.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

... 'cause I don't watch basketball?

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