Worried that the launch of Sputnik 1 meant the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union in scientific, military and political terms, the Pentagon decided it might be able to punch things up by detonating a nuclear device on the moon.
A top-secret plan to look at that possibility — "Project A-119" — was developed by the U.S. Air Force in 1958, and a report based on it was recently obtained online by CNN
At the time the U.S. and the Soviets were locked in a nuclear arms race. The thinking was that if the Soviets hit the United States with nuclear weapons first and wiped out its ability to strike back, the U.S. could launch warheads from nuclear launch sites on the moon — sort of a lunar “military high ground,” according to the report.
But first the U.S. needed information concerning the capability of nuclear weapons in space warfare, information that might be obtained by a nuclear detonation on the moon, and that’s where Project A-119 came in.
The basic plan was for an intercontinental ballistic missile to be launched from an undisclosed location, travel about 240,000 miles to the moon, and detonate on impact.
The project’s leaders considered using an atom bomb the same size as "Little Boy," the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan near the end of World War II.
The effect of such a device would not have "blown up" the moon, so to speak, and would have been essentially invisible from the Earth, even with a good telescope.
Within a year, however, the project was drawing more concern than excitement.
Planners weren’t sure about the reliability of the weapons and were concerned about adding radioactivity from the Earth to the natural radioactivity of the moon. They also were worried about how the American public would react.
Project A-119 was abandoned and disappeared from the Pentagon’s files.
The Air Force was contacted by CNN, but wouldn’t comment on the project.
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