It’s a plan that is literally out of this world.
According to a report obtained by CNN, a top secret plan was developed by the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War that would have allowed for the detonation of a nuclear warhead on the moon.
The authenticity of the report, which raised more questions than answers, was confirmed by physicist Leonard Reiffel, who authored the study. Speaking with CNN, Mr. Reiffel said reasons for nuking the moon were “scientific, military and political.”
“People were worried very much by (first human in space Soviet cosmonaut Yuri) Gagarin and Sputnik and the very great accomplishments of the Soviet Union in those days, and in comparison, the United States was feared to be looking puny. So this was a concept to sort of reassure people that the United States could maintain a mutually-assured deterrence, and therefore avoid any huge conflagration on the Earth,” said Reiffel, who led the project.
The bomb was intended to be sent 238,000 miles to the moon where it would detonate upon impact. Reiffel noted that the decision to use a nuclear bomb was due to the fact that a hydrogen bomb, the most powerful in the U.S. arsenal, would have been too heavy to fly to space. The plan was eventually scraped after scientists working on the project raised concerns. America’s planning included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, then a young graduate student, of the behavior of dust and gas generated by the blast. According to the report, viewing the nuclear flash from Earth might have intimidated the Soviet Union and boosted U.S. confidence following the successful launch of Sputnik.
“We didn’t want to clutter up the natural radioactivities of the moon with additional bits of radioactivity from the Earth,” Reiffel said.
It remains unclear whether the plan made its way to the White House, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower would have had to sign off on it.
That said, one this for certain: the story seems to have divided the media world. Writing earlier this week, a number of media outlets questioned the plan’s legitimacy.
“What’s preposterous are some of the breathless media reports stemming from a decade-old Associated Press interview with Reiffel. Littering Google News on Wednesday were headlines screaming some variation of “U.S. Planned to Blow Up the Moon!” — which to be perfectly blunt, no it didn’t,” wrote PC Magazine. “Those headlines are misleading because they give the impression that the architects of Project A119 were trying to literally blow the Moon to smithereens. It’s crazy enough that there was a plan to detonate an atom bomb on the Moon without morphing the story into Star Wars.”
The 190-page document called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights, Volume I” is available online through the Information for the Defense Community database