Russia and America during the Cold War wanted to drop an atomic bomb on the moon

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — In 1958, a plan was developed for the atomic bombardment of the moon …

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into low Earth orbit. It was the first artificial satellite of the Earth, and it caused great concern among the Pentagon and the American political leadership, since the Communists launched it. The space race began, and the Americans lost in it.

The following decades became a parade of paranoia of the Cold War, a time of technical innovation and strange military strategies. West and East wanted to visually show the whole world who the main superpower is. But how to do that?

The first to fly to the moon would be the highest reward. But at the dawn of the space race, America and the Soviets thought that the best evidence of a flight to the moon would be its nuclear bombardment.

Today, the idea of ​​delivering a nuclear strike on the moon may seem ridiculous. But amid the political and cultural tensions of the 1950s, such desperate plans seemed quite reasonable and logical. In 1958, the Research Center for Armored Vehicles, which became the forerunner of the Illinois Institute of Technology, developed an appropriate plan, receiving instructions from the Air Force.

It was called Project A119 (aka “Research of scientific flights to the Moon”). The research center of armored vehicles from 1949 to 1962 studied the possible consequences of the detonation of nuclear munitions on the lunar surface. This was partly due to growing concern about the impact of nuclear testing on the atmosphere – but not only.

“I was told that the Air Force is very interested in whether it is possible to carry out a sudden demonstration explosion with all the obvious consequences for the formation of public opinion and for the Cold War,” project manager Leonard Reiffel wrote in Nature.

“It was clear that the main purpose of the explosion was to influence public opinion and demonstrate superiority. “The Air Force needed a huge mushroom cloud to be visible from Earth, ” Reifel said in an interview with The Observer. “The United States was lagging behind in the space race.”

In addition, the explosion could tell scientists and the military a lot about the effectiveness of nuclear weapons in space. In 1959, Reifel wrote a message about this project, which was later declassified. There he states the following: “Certain military goals could be achieved, since we would have information about the surrounding space, about testing nuclear weapons in space and about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in a space war .”

Lunar mutual destruction

Many of those Cold War plans remain classified as “secret,” including project A119. And we learned about him thanks to Carl Sagan. In 1959, Sagan was a young graduate who turned his eyes to the University of California at Berkeley, or rather, to the Miller Institute for Basic Research, where he wanted to defend his dissertation. He applied for admission, where he talked a little about the work that he did for SIC armored vehicles, in particular, about the reports he wrote, which he entitled: “The possible contribution of a nuclear explosion on the Moon to the solution of some problems of planetary astronomy” and “ The radioactive contamination of the moon by the explosion of a nuclear weapon.”

The fact that the popular cosmologist and scientific author readily bragged about his work on secret projects to enter graduate school caused a stir when his biographers learned about it after the death of Sagan in 1996. The Pentagon has not yet commented on its plans for a nuclear bombardment of the Moon, and many of the reports and messages written at that time were destroyed.

Thank God, this project was never started, and America decided that it was better to send a man to the moon than to blow it up.

In the 2003 documentary film Fog of War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara talks about how he and his chiefs of staff discussed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned atmospheric nuclear tests.

They said: “The Soviets will deceive us.” I asked: “How will they deceive us?” You won’t believe it, but they said: “The Soviets will conduct tests on the far side of the moon.” I said: “Yes, you are crazy. This is absurd.”

But that was not entirely absurd. America was not the only country that considered it possible to carry out an explosion on the lunar surface. On the wave of success with the satellite, Russian scientists Sergei Pavlovich Korolev and Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh in 1958 proposed a series of projects that would allow the Kremlin to fly to the moon and notify the world that the Russians were there.

It was “Project E”, which included several stages. Stage E-1 provided for the flight of the spacecraft to the moon. E-2 and E-3 were aimed at circling the moon and photographing its surface. Stage E-4 was more eerie and fantastic. At this stage, it was planned to undermine a small nuclear charge on the lunar surface.

The famous Russian rocket designer Boris Chertok in 1999 told Reuters about this project:

In 1958, there was a plan to send an atomic bomb to the moon so that astronomers around the world could film the explosion. Thus, no one would have any doubt that the Soviet Union was capable of landing on the surface of the moon. But this idea was rejected, because physicists decided that due to the lack of atmosphere on the moon, the flash would be too short and it would not be possible to fix it on film.

And in 1961, the Soviets sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space. Then the American Apollo program began, which brought the United States major propaganda and technical victories. And despite the rattling of nuclear weapons, the lunar landscapes remained intact.


This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.

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