How much did the United States hate the Soviets during the Cold War? Enough to blow up the moon, apparently.
In what can be classified as ’a fairly bad idea’, US military chiefs drew up a plan aiming to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon which would be seen by the public as a demonstration of strength to other nations - most notably the Soviet Union. The goal was also to boost American morale, as the Soviets had taken the lead in the space race.
The history of Plan A119, also known as "A Study of Lunar Research Flights", according to Wikipedia:
In May 1958, ARF (Armour Research Foundation) began covertly researching the potential consequences of an atomic explosion on the Moon. The main objective of the program, which ran under the auspices of the United States Air Force, which had initially proposed it, was to cause a nuclear explosion that would be visible from Earth.
At the time of the project’s conception, newspapers were reporting a rumor that the Soviet Union was planning to detonate a hydrogen bomb on the Moon. According to press reports in late 1957, an anonymous source had divulged to a United States Secret Service agent that the Soviets planned to commemorate the anniversary of the October Revolution by causing a nuclear explosion on the Moon to coincide with a lunar eclipse on November 7. News reports of the rumored launch included mention of targeting the dark side of the terminator—Project A119 would also consider this boundary as the target for an explosion. It was also reported that a failure to hit the Moon would likely result in the missile returning to Earth.
"The explosion was intended to occur along the Moon’s terminator, for maximum visibility from Earth." (Wikipedia)
In what would surprise his admirers, it came to light that "astronomer Carl Sagan was responsible for some of the calculations that could cause the nuclear detonation. Sagan, who later became a famous author of popular science, was a young graduate student at the time. He worked as a NASA advisor from the 1950s onward and died in 1996. One of Sagan’s biographers claims he may have committed a security breach by revealing the classified project in 1959 in his application for an academic fellowship." (Source)
As it turns out, nuking the moon wasn’t such a preposterous idea because apparently the Soviet Union had their own similar plan. The Soviet approach was different than originally reported in 1957, but ’Project E-4’ still involved a nuclear strike on the surface of the moon.
Both plans were eventually, and blessedly, cancelled for many reasons, one of which being that the (moon-hating?) architects feared a ’negative public reaction’, and the chance of radioactive material contaminating space - a space which both superpowers wished to occupy one day.
By the time these plans came to public attention and treaties were signed preventing such behaviour, the US and Soviet Union had already performed several high-altitude nuclear explosions, and damage resulting in the fusing of overhead telephone lines, fires, radiation belts being created and trapped around the earth, and EMP crippling satellites in low earth orbit.
’Attacks’ on our moon didn’t end with the Cold War. In 2009 NASA carried out their own plan to ’bomb the moon’, but this time with a kinetic weapon:
... [The] US space agency steered two parts of a spacecraft, called LCROSS, into the moon at more than 9,000 kilometres per hour, in the final act of a mission designed to look for signs of water. Nasa scientists anticipated the impact would knock enough dust and rock out of the lunar surface to form a 10km-high cloud of debris that could be scanned for evidence of frozen water.
The mission finale turned out to be less dramatic than NASA had hoped, and while neither the impact nor a dust cloud could be seen from earth, water was reportedly detected in the samples examined.
Luckily, there are no current reports of masterminds plotting to blow up the moon for dubious reasons. It remains relatively safe. That is, until we colonize it. Then it’s doomed.
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