Washington’s Top-secret Plan to Nuke the Moon

August 27th, 2023 - by Alex Mitchell / The New York Post & Flashback with Palki Sharma

Why the US Military Almost Blew Up
the Moon Up with a Nuclear Bomb

Alex Mitchell / The New York Post

(June 2, 2023) — It’s one giant explosion for mankind.

At the end of the 1950s — a decade shy of Apollo 11’s successful lunar landing — the US military had the radical idea of detonating a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon, Air Force documents from 1959 show.

“Nuclear detonations in the vicinity of the moon are considered in this report with scientific information which might be obtained from such explosions … The detonation of a nuclear weapon on or near the moon’s surface has often been suggested,” according to the now unclassified report.

“The military aspect is aided by investigation of space environment, detection of nuclear device testing, and capability of weapons in space.”

The proposal was only initially made public after famed physicist Carl Sagan — who had worked on the project and came up with the nuclear concept — revealed details of its existence when applying for a fellowship at UC Berkeley’s Miller Institute in 1959.

Sagan’s biographer, Keay Davidson, discovered Sagan’s disclosure of the project after the late science icon passed in 1996, according to the Guardian.

Carl Sagan reportedly leaked top-secret information on the plan.

“In my opinion Sagan breached security in March 1959,” physicist Leonard Reiffel, Sagan’s boss on the project, wrote for the journal Nature in 2000.

Sagan had been tasked with “mathematically modelling the expansion of an exploding gas/dust cloud rarifying into the space around the Moon,” but had been having “difficulty with the problem,” Reiffel wrote.

“Sagan soon suggested that he should try to see how a nuclear explosion might be used to detect organic molecules on the Moon. I agreed to a brief effort in that direction.”

This “exhaustive” and covert plan out of the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico — codenamed Project A119 — was partly intended to one-up the Soviet Union, which had just sent the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in 1957.

With the US falling behind in the space race, A119 was meant to be “an exciting response to Sputnik,” science historian Alex Wellerstein told the BBC.

“[Other ideas] included shooting down Sputnik, which feels very spiteful. They refer to them as stunts … designed to impress people.”

This goal was discussed by the A119 scientists, who tried to determine if the explosion would be visible from Earth.

“The motivation for such a detonation is clearly threefold: scientific, military, and political,” according to the report.

In the Nature article, Reiffel recalled the Air Force’s wish to “fast-track” determining the detonation’s feasibility — it wouldn’t produce a mushroom cloud because the moon’s lack of atmosphere — prior to May 1958.

“I was told the Air Force was very interested in the possibility of a surprise demonstration explosion, with all its obvious implications for public relations and the Cold War.”

Although NASA ultimately responded to the USSR by launching its own satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958, “they continued this [nuclear] project somewhat seriously, into at least the late 1950s,” added Wellerstein.

“It is a pretty interesting window into the sort of American mindset at that time. This push to compete in a way that creates something very impressive. I think, in this case, impressive and horrifying are a bit too close to each other.”

Eventually, the project had a failure to launch.

“These were serious studies, but they didn’t get any serious funding or attention when they left the space community,” space policy expert Bleddyn Bowen told the BBC.

“It was part of the late ’50s, early ’60s space mania before anybody knew exactly what nature the Space Age was going to take.”

Had interested not waned, Reiffel wrote in 2000 that nuking the moon was “certainly technically feasible. Fortunately for the future of lunar science, a one or two horse race to detonate a nuclear explosion never occurred.”

The US Plan to Nuke the Moon
Flashback with Palki Sharma

(August 26, 2023) — In the late 1950s, the US air force was planning an audacious attempt to drop a nuclear bomb on the moon. Though the plan was declared “technically feasible”, it was shelved by the American authorities. Why did the US plan such an absurd project? Would it have been possible at all?