You could easily skip by it in an archive search: a project titled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights.” Its nickname is even more low-brow: “Project A-119.”
But the reality was much more explosive. It was a top-secret plan, developed by the U.S. Air Force, to look at the possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the moon.
It was hatched in 1958 – a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear arms race that would last decades and drive the two superpowers to the verge of nuclear war. The Soviets had also just launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite. The U.S. was falling behind in the space race, and needed a big splash.
“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 physicist Leonard Reiffel, who led the project…
The military considerations were frightening. The report said a nuclear detonation on the moon could yield information “…concerning the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare.” Reiffel said that in military circles at the time, there was “discussion of the moon as military high ground.”
That included talk of having nuclear launch sites on the moon, he said. The thinking, according to Reiffel, was that if the Soviets hit the United States with nuclear weapons first and wiped out the U.S. ability to strike back, the U.S. could launch warheads from the moon.
“These are horrendous concepts,” Reiffel said, “and they are hopefully going to remain in the realm of science fiction for the rest of eternity…”
Or the platform of the Arizona Republican Party
By 1959, Project A-119 was drawing more concern than excitement…
Project planners also weren’t sure of the reliability of the weapons, and feared the public backlash in the U.S. would be significant,” Reiffel said…
Contacted by CNN, the Air Force would not comment on Project A-119.
Has there ever been a branch of anyone’s military willing to admit how truly stupid and useless some of their projects may be?