Why Apollo Astronauts Trained at a Nuclear Test Site


On July 20th, fifty years ago Neil Armstrong and Buzz Lightyear first set foot on the moon. But before they went there, they came here. This is Sedan Crater and it was excavated by a nuclear bomb in 1962. [bomb explodes] It’s part of the Nevada Test Site, an area of desert bigger than Rhode Island. — [broadcast] located 70 miles [110 km] northwest of Las Vegas — Here, the U.S. performed 928 nuclear explosions. And from 1965, they trained Apollo astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin before their trips to the moon. In the following years, astronauts returned with spacesuit mock-ups and TV cameras. They even tested out a mock-up of the lunar roving vehicle. Over a period of seven years, 11 of the 12 men who would eventually walk on the moon visited this site. So why would you bring Apollo astronauts to a nuclear bomb test site? That’s what we’re gonna find out. [♫] The obvious reason is because the moon is covered in craters, so the astronauts needed experience in cratered terrain, but there were other locations available, like Barringer Crater in Arizona, claimed to be the site of a meteorite impact, though its origins were disputed until the 1960s. In another part of Arizona, scientists used conventional explosives to recreate the exact pattern of craters on the moon around the Apollo 11 landing site. Now the astronauts did train at both of these sites, but the Nevada Test Site provided something extra. [♫ brassy fanfare ♫] — Put on your goggles — The Nevada Test Site was commissioned in 1951 as a place to test nuclear explosions. The goal was not only to develop better bombs, but also to understand how homes and household items could be made to withstand a nuclear blast. — Five… — — Four… — — Three… — –Two… — — One… — — Zero. — [bomb explodes] A hundred tests were conducted above ground before the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963. It banned testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water, leaving only underground testing. Like the blast that formed Sedan Crater: a 1 meter wide hole was drilled down into the ground right here, 635 feet [194 m] deep, and that is where they located a nuclear bomb. It was a 104-kiloton [440 TJ] device. That means the energy released was equivalent to 104,000 tons of TNT, roughly eight times as big as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. — [broadcast] This close-up view was taken from a ground station three miles [5 km] from ground zero. The dome rose to a height of 290 feet [88.4 m] before it vented at three seconds. — It excavated 12 million tons [11 Mt] of dirt and rock, forming what is the largest man-made crater in North America. In fact it’s the second biggest in the world after Chagan Crater in Russia. It’s about 400 meters in diameter and nearly 100 meters deep. This was part of an operation called “Plowshare.” — [broadcast] The United States is conducting, for the benefit of all nations, a program it calls “Plowshare.” — [♫ momentous fanfare ♫] With the idea being, if you need to form a big hole somewhere, let’s say you’re making a huge construction project, maybe a canal, could you use nuclear weapons to excavate that dirt? [♫]
— [broadcast] Enormous energy, relatively inexpensive, compact, and easily transportable. — [broadcast] Enormous energy, relatively inexpensive, compact, and easily transportable. This is the new power tool that “Plowshare” would add to Man’s resources of useful energy, to do jobs never before practical or even possible. — As you can see, it’s a pretty good excavator. But later, they found out that it’s very hard to reduce the contamination, the radioactive contamination that results from a nuclear explosion and so the operation was effectively canceled. But what they had created was the closest thing you can get to a meteorite impact crater. And that seems a bit weird, because I mean when I think about meteor impacts, I imagine these sort of compressions of a big rock coming in and pushing the dirt out of the way. But that’s not actually how it works. Meteors are typically going incredibly fast, like 10 or 20 kilometers per second,
[♫] so when one strikes the ground, it creates an incredibly hot, dense, high-pressure region at the site of the impact. This melts and vaporizes rock. A shockwave traveling out from the point of contact transforms minerals due to the extreme pressure. As the high-pressure region decompresses, it creates what is essentially a huge explosion, and it is this explosion that creates the crater. Something you might notice if you look at craters is they’re almost always circular. But if you think about it, meteors impact from all sorts of different angles. The reason you’re seeing a circle is because really, a meteor impact is an explosion. That is what forms the crater. It’s not the impact, otherwise you would see all sorts of weird, oblong-shaped craters. Nuclear explosions are so much like meteorite impacts, that craters on this test site provided the definitive evidence confirming that Barringer Crater was in fact the result of an impact. Scientists compared samples from both sites and found the same shocked minerals, like coesite, a shocked form of quartz. This mineral can only be formed under the intense pressure of a meteorite impact, or a nuclear explosion. Further similarities with nuclear test craters allowed scientists to estimate that the energy of impact was around 10 megatons. That’s the size of a fairly big thermonuclear detonation. Another similarity is in how these cratering events excavate rock. All of this dirt got excavated out of here—
12 million tons [11 Mt]— and it was ejected out and over the rim, and what actually happens in that process is the layers of rock actually get turned over at the rim It’s called inverted stratigraphy This is a telltale sign of meteorite impacts and nuclear explosions and it helped the astronauts know, when they collected samples on the moon, what to look for and where. Something I was surprised to learn was that Apollo astronauts actually spent 25%, or a full quarter, of their final year before blasting off to the moon studying science, visiting sites like this one where they could learn about geology, about their rocks and minerals, and the formations that they should look for when they’re on the moon. And I guess it makes sense, because these were scientific missions. But they weren’t conducted by professional scientists. By and large, the Apollo astronauts were expert pilots. As Apollo 11 blasted off, the astronauts were journeying into the unknown—literally. We knew so little about the moon, like how it formed, what it was made of, and whether or not it was volcanically active. (– All engines run.) (We have a liftoff! –) When the Apollo astronauts were on the moon, they actually used some of their training from here. The astronauts were really excited when they found the rocks that they recognized. In fact, it was probably due to their training here that they were able to recognize those minerals and those rocks, which were so important to bring back. And to learn not only about the moon’s formation, but also about our entire solar system, and the formation of all the planets. This is the actual moon dust, or lunar regolith, collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts. I’m gonna take a look at it under the microscope. Now since the moon has basically no atmosphere, all of this material had never been exposed to oxygen. So there was some concern that once the astronauts brought it back into their spacecraft and introduced some oxygen, that it would spontaneously catch fire. So Buzz recounts the story of how they were ready to throw all the samples out if that were to happen. But, of course, thankfully nothing did happen when they brought those samples in and re-pressurized the lunar module. Amongst the dark lunar dust that Apollo 11 brought back, scientists identified tiny flecks of a light-colored rock, which they immediately identified as anorthosite. And that was an important discovery, because it supported the theory that in the past the moon was entirely melted, covered in a magma ocean at least a hundred kilometers thick. So the idea goes that when anorthosite forms, when the minerals that make it up crystallize out they are less dense than the magma around them, so they float to the surface. So, the initial surface of the Moon, the primordial surface of the Moon. would have been made of anorthosite, and then about a billion years later, there was more volcanic activity on the Moon, leading to lava flows over these regions that are darker called the mare. And you can see they have fewer craters on them because, well, they’re younger. So how do you get anorthosite over here in the Sea of Tranquility? Well, that must have happened through giant impacts in the highlands, which would have sprayed ejecta all over the Moon. And so it got mixed in with the dark soil over here, and brought back by the astronauts to my Petri dish where I can look at it today. But anorthosite was just the tip of the iceberg. Inside all of these samples was a subtle clue to how the Moon formed. Looking at the amounts of different isotopes in a rock can tell you where that rock came from. And when scientists analyzed the Moon rocks, they found the same isotopic abundances as in Earth rocks. This is why we believe today that the Earth and Moon formed together, from the same event: a giant impact between planets four-and-a-half billion years ago. Going to the Moon and knowing what to look for taught us not only how the Moon formed, but also how our Earth formed. And all this from less than 400 kilograms of Moon rock from the near side of the Moon. Clearly there is still a lot to learn up there and personally I can’t wait until we go back. Who knows what unexpected discoveries are waiting for us when we return. Hey! This episode of Veritasium was supported by viewers like you on Patreon and by Audible. You know for the last few weeks I have been re-listening to “A Man on the Moon” by Andrew Chaikin. This book tells the extraordinary story of all of the Apollo missions, and in such gripping detail that it’s really hard to stop listening to it. I was listening in traffic, on flights, even signing shade balls Yes, listening to this book is what got me through it. And there is no better place to listen than Audible. Just go to Audible.com/Veritasium or text “Veritasium” to 500-500, and browse their unmatched selection of audio content. Audible members get to choose three titles every month: one audiobook plus two Audible originals that you can’t hear anywhere else. On top of that, members get access to audio-guided fitness programs and meditation programs. And for a limited time, Amazon Prime members can start an Audible membership and save $30 total for the first three months. That’s like getting three months for the price of one. Each month is just $4.95 per month for the first three months, and after that, it’s only $14.95 per month. The offer is valid from July 1st to the 31st of 2019 so I really want to thank Audible for supporting me, and I want to thank you for watching.

100 thoughts on “Why Apollo Astronauts Trained at a Nuclear Test Site

  1. now I understand this news: "A purported moon rock given to the Dutch government to commemorate the first manned lunar landing in 1969 has turned out to be only a chunk of petrified wood. The Dutch national museum says one of its prized possessions, a rock supposedly brought back from the moon by U.S. astronauts, is just a piece of petrified wood"……… maybe NASA was concerned that rocks will ignite themselves at the contact with oxygen…..so they decided to give some fake rocks to the dutchies…… 🙂

  2. Everyone knows that craters are electrically escavated. And they went to the moon to find out when the moon was last hit by a CME.

  3. Yea and we know why they "banned" nuke testing in the oceans, atmosphere, and outer space only "allowing" underground nuke testing….. To hide from them aliens who'd been telling them, stop with the nukes.

  4. Astronauts used none of their geological training on the moon. They did use some of their experience from the golf course though.

  5. & in a real case scenario anything brought back from the moon or any planet other than ours would have been transported in a quarantine section of their return pod, for all we know we could have just brought back a virus our world has never seen the lights of …. just a 💭

  6. Could we expect water on moon in any form like solid ice could we colonize on the moon the way we are planning to mars ISRO sent chandrayan2 to the south pole in order to find water

  7. because this zone is restricted, so you can take a shots/video there and then to say that it was taken on the Moon. Somrthing like Devon island.

  8. Think of a company that dropped rocks from outer space and they targeted them to hit a spot to ctreate diamonds on the spot

  9. convenient that they trained in an area, artificially created to mimic the moon. i'm sure nobody could be fooled with that gem, rite…….

  10. Why always popular youtubers making moon landing and NASA real, now i understand how they popular on youtube with the help NASA and proven fake moon landing real,,,,

  11. WHY… because it looks like the moon…
    aaaand.. ACTION…

    why does this guy looks really innocent to me now, talking about moonlanding these days..??
    just so lame..

  12. the fun thing about far away science, like moon and sun, is you cannot say no about it..
    they tell you "these", and you must believe in "these" or else you look stupid..

    not like learning another science that can be experimented on earth..
    these stellar science took a leap of faith and only faith is all you need…

    hehe..

  13. ARE YOU KIDDING??????? HEY AUTHOR, THE MOON LANDING IS FAKE, DO YOU EVER INTERESTED IN MOON LANDING, YOU NEED TO BE EITHER PROPAGANDIST OR ABSOLUTELY UNAWARE THAT THERE IS INFORMATION THAT TOTALLY DEBUNKS MOON LANDING AND SPACE FLIGHT.

  14. They are destroying and destroyed our planet in every aspect. So sad about these kind of harmful devastating experiments where they have held in this beautiful living planet.

  15. Duh.. The moon landings were fake that Stanley Kubrick made the film realistic that he filmed it

    On the actual location (moon)

  16. I noticed in the nuke test footage, there was a black smoke coming off of the buildings before the actual shockwave hit them. Was that paint burning off from the flash? I'm just so intrigued about how hot that flash is.

  17. Hey Mr. Veritsium, one time you say meteorite impact, other time you say meteor impact. If you do a serious video about serious stuff, it would be nice of you to get the terminology right. Otherwise, there is no point in educating people with incorrect stuff, right? The correct words are meteorite impact, as a meteor is just an atmospheric phenomenon, right? No meteor impact, meteorite impact! And then later, NO!!!! "Meteors are typically going incredibly fast,…" – METEOROIDS. There are 3 words: meteoroid, meteor, meteorite. Please, do me a favor and correct it in the video. Thank you!

  18. They trained and film there because it’s so off limits to general public, that they can film fake moon landings and mars rover missions for the fools who actually believe it. Who owns the biggest movie studio at universal? Nasa.

  19. The use to go to these area to train on the lie which they will tell the world about and probably they filmed the moon landing base on this area

  20. why would you need to test a weapon for hundreds of times ? you should stop after a few knowing the danger of those bombs, unless they were used to destroy traces of something ?

  21. Great video, I noticed the truck on the clip at 4:09 looks eerily like the International Harvester flatbed my Grandpa drives, but that emblem on the front looks like the IH logo, it's just the quality.

  22. Could it be the 900 plus nuclear test detonations in the southwest of the USA ,or the radioactive particles created from said tests , that caused the high cancer rates of Americans who live during that era?

  23. So he's implying the moon landing was not staged and that those dust samples are as real as the moon rock donated to Holland which happened to be petrified wood?

  24. A much more simple explanation would be that the "moon rocks" are just unusual earth rocks collected, you know, on Earth. Instead, you've gone off down some tangent and created this entire elaborate story of how the moon was formed from a collision with the earth. No. Moon rocks are similar to earth rocks, because they are earth rocks.

  25. I imagine if there were people around during the time when that meteor impacted earth, maybe someone was just close enough to the impact site to either witness it or at least hear it. They probably got very stressed that day jeez

  26. hm my guess was that, when you're in space, you don't have the atmosphere to protect you from radiation, and they wanted to expose the astronauts to fallout radiation to test their bodies and see if there would be any biological effects of exposure.

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