Although it now sounds absurd, US military scientists in the 1950s briefly considered exploding an atomic bomb on the Moon. In a 2000 interview, physicist Leonard Reiffel admitted that the secret plan, known as Project A119, featured a rocket that would deliver a small nuclear device to the lunar surface, where it would be detonated.
The Soviets had taken the lead in the Space Race in 1957 by launching a beach ball-sized satellite called Sputnik I. The idea of a nuclear blast on the Moon may have been America's idea of Cold War payback.
Cold War assault on the Moon:
- According to Reiffel, the idea was scrapped in 1959 due to the dangers of launching a nuclear device. In addition, scientists were concerned about future exploration on a radioactive lunar surface.
- Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, doubts that the US “had any rockets that would have had the power to leave Earth's orbit and hit the Moon" during the 1950s.
- The signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the Outer Space Treaty in 1967 specifically outlawed the detonation of nuclear devices on the Moon.