Did You Know That The United States Once Planned on Nuking The Moon?
The United States once planned on shooting a nuclear bomb at the moon. If you presumed that the reasoning behind such an act was “because we can,” you are absolutely correct.
The U.S. wanted to do it in order to one-up the Soviet Union on a space race that the latter were perceived to be leading at the time.
The project, which was developed by the US Air Force in the late 1950s, was called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” or “Project A119”. It was believed that this would be a relatively easy thing to do. Plus, this would boost public perception of the U.S. was doing in comparison to the Soviet Union in terms of the space race.
According to physicist Leonard Reiffel, one of the leaders of the project, hitting the moon with an accuracy of about two miles, an intercontinental ballistic missile would’ve been relatively easy to achieve. The accuracy level is highly important as the Air Force wanted the explosion to be clearly visible on Earth. As such, it was important that the explosion happen on the border of the visible part of the moon, so that the resulting cloud would be visible as the sun illuminates it.
The project was eventually scrapped as they soon realized the public wouldn’t respond favorably to the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon.
One can only imagine the conversation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union…
United States: “Hey, Soviet Union, don’t worry about that nuclear intercontinental missile we just fired with a nuclear warhead attached to it. I swear, it’s aimed at the moon.”
Soviet Union: Why would you shoot a nuclear missile at the moon?
United States: “…”
Soviet Union: “???”
United States: “You know… BOOM!… but in space.”
- A young Carl Sagan was one of the many scientists hired by Reiffel for the project. Sagan’s task was to study how exactly the explosion cloud would expand on the moon, so that it would be clearly visible from Earth, which was the whole point of the project.
- Sagan felt that the project also had scientific merit in that the cloud itself could be closely examined for possible organic material.
- Sagan breached national security just one year after he was hired (1959) when he revealed aspects of the project when applying for the Berkeley Miller Institute graduate fellowship. Details of this were not brought to light until a biographer, Keay Davidson, uncovered this information when doing research for a biography on Carl Sagan after Sagan’s death in 1996.