STAFF REPORTER, The West Australian November 26, 2012, 9:25 am
The United States planned to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb to win Cold War bragging rights over the-then Soviet Union, scientists claim.
A report in London’s Daily Mail this morning says that at the height of the 1950s space race, the US considered detonating an atom bomb on the moon as a display of America’s Cold War muscle.
The secret project, A Study of Lunar Research Flights, and nicknamed Project A119, was never carried out.
The Daily Mail article says the mission’s planning included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, then a young graduate student, of the behavior of dust and gas generated by the blast.
In 2000 physicist Leonard Reiffel said that viewing the nuclear flash from earth might have intimidated the Soviet Union and boosted US confidence after the launch of Sputnik.
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.
According to the Daily Mail, 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, the Daily Mail article says.
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.
The US Air Force refuses to comment on the claims.