The Russian plan for a Moon base announced in May contrasts in an ironic way with the other extreme that once was a special project buried in the plans of the US military – to blow up a nuclear bomb on the moon, just to show the Soviets who was boss.
The project was known by the code name Project A119 and represents the Dr Strangelove extreme of strategic planning by the fantasists who led US policy in the late 1950s, or rather, those inside the US Air Force who presumably were partly motivated by service rivalry. The trigger seems to have been the early lead that the Soviet Union took in the space race with the Sputnik 1 launch on October 4, 1957..
Carl Sagan a graduate student at the time is said to have helped cork the project by pointing out how it would destabilize the planetary system with dust and gas. Apparently there was also fears that the missile might miss the target and come back to explode on Earth, or if the atom bomb did explode on target, would contaminate the moon with radioactivity.
Aim of mission was to launch the nuke by 1959
Plan was later scrapped due to possible danger to people on Earth
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER and ASSOCIATED PRESS
PUBLISHED: 14:06 EST, 25 November 2012 | UPDATED: 17:37 EST, 25 November 2012
It may sound like a plot straight out of a science fiction novel, but a U.S. mission to blow up the moon with a nuke was very real in the 1950s.
At the height of the space race, the U.S. considered detonating an atom bomb on the moon as a display of America’s Cold War muscle.
The secret project, innocuously titled ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’ and nicknamed ‘Project A119,’ was never carried out.
However, its planning included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, then a young graduate student, of the behavior of dust and gas generated by the blast.
Viewing the nuclear flash from Earth might have intimidated the Soviet Union and boosted U.S. confidence after the launch of Sputnik, physicist Leonard Reiffel told the AP in a 2000 interview.
Reiffel, now 85, directed the inquiry at the former Armour Research Foundation, now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. He later served as a deputy director at NASA.
Sagan, who later became renowned for popularizing science on television, died in 1996.
The author of one of Sagan’s biographies suggested that he may have committed a security breach in 1959 after revealing the classified project in an academic fellowship application. Reiffel concurred.
Under the scenario, a missile carrying a small nuclear device was to be launched from an undisclosed location and travel 238,000 miles to the moon, where it would be detonated upon impact.
The planners decided it would have to be an atom bomb because a hydrogen bomb would have been too heavy for the missile.
Reiffel said the nation’s young space program probably could have carried out the mission by 1959, when the Air Force deployed inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Military officials apparently abandoned the idea because of the danger to people on Earth in case the mission failed.
The scientists also registered concerns about contaminating the moon with radioactive material, Reiffel said.
When contacted by the AP, the U.S. Air Force declined to comment on the project.[/spoiler]
Project A119 was cancelled in 1959 and first revealed in 2000. This week it filled the news but we have still to find out why.