Ever hear about the time that America tried to blow up the Moon with a nuclear bomb? Okay, they didn’t really try to blow it up, but they did want to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Moon’s surface–you know, for science… Project A119 was the official name of the United States Air Force’s top-secret plan. It was also known as “A Study of Lunar Research Flight.”
It was 1958, and the United States was concerned that they would lose the Space Race to the Soviet Union. Their concerns were valid as the Soviet Union did eventually become the first nation to accomplish the feat of landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon–the Luna 2–on September 14, 1959. (It would be almost eleven years before the first manned landing on the moon would occur, by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on America’s Apollo 11.)
Project A119 had two major purposes: 1) to better understand the mysteries of astronomy and astrogeology, and 2) to boost domestic morale regarding the Soviet Union’s current lead in the Space Race.
The plan was to attach a W25 warhead (carrying roughly 1/15 of the kiloton yield dropped on Hiroshima) to an intercontinental ballistic missile. Upon impact, with the Moon, the warhead would detonate, resulting in the creation of a dust cloud that would have been visible–with the naked eye–from Earth.
Luckily for us–and the Moon–the Air Force determined that Project A119 would stir negative public attention, and the government instead refocused their energy and efforts on becoming the first nation to land a manned spacecraft on the moon.
Ironically enough, the Soviet Union was also working on its own top-secret plan, which involved a nuclear strike on the Moon. Their project, code-named “E,” was a four step plan: 1) reach the moon, 2) and 3) to orbit and photograph the far side of the moon, and 4) to launch a nuclear strike on the Moon as a display of force.
Neither country detonated nuclear bombs on the Moon, and with the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, of 1963, and the Outer Space Treaty, of 1967, any possibility of future detonation of nuclear weapons on the Moon was removed from the table.