65 years ago, a secret American project A119 was created – a plan to drop an atomic bomb on the moon. This Cold War idea was supposed to impress the whole world, but after months of analysis it was rejected. The existence of the entire project came to light, quite by accident, only several decades later.
In the late 1950s, a “space race” began between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both powers sought to prove their superiority in the ability to explore space. Initially, the advantage of the USSR appeared in the race. In 1957, the Russians successfully launched the first artificial satellite in history into earth orbit, while two similar attempts by the Americans ended in a fiasco.
Atomic bomb on the moon
In this situation USA began to look for other opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities in space. When rumors circulated that the Russians were planning to detonate an atomic bomb on the moon to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution, a similar idea was also raised in Washington. The top-secret plan was contained in a document entitled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” and designated Project A119. Leading the entire work was entrusted to one of the most important American nuclear physicists, Dr. Leonard Reiffel.
From May 1958 to January 1959, intensive work was carried out on the project. The plan was seemingly simple – a hydrogen bomb was to be detonated on the surface of the Moon, with a force many times greater than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This explosion was intended to advance knowledge of astronomy and planetary geology, but its main purpose was political. The impact was supposed to take place during the full moon and on the edge of its visible silhouette, i.e. on the so-called terminator line. So that the explosion was perfectly visible from the surface of the Earth. And above all from the Kremlin, to which the whole plan was directed as a show of strength and capabilities of the USA.
Amaze the world
Rushed by political factors, Dr. Leonard Reiffel produced numerous feasibility studies for the A119 project. It turned out to be necessary to reduce the bomb sent to the moon – finally, an ordinary atomic bomb with a power similar to that dropped on Nagasaki was to be used. However, the entire project was deemed technically feasible.
Despite this, its implementation was finally abandoned at the beginning of 1959. The US Air Force was supposed to have decided that the risks involved would outweigh the benefits. Firstly, there was a risk of radioactive contamination of the surface of the Moon, to which astronauts were planned to be sent in the following years. Secondly, a possible failure during the launch of a rocket with such a dangerous bomb posed the risk of an atomic explosion on US territory. It was also difficult to predict how positively the entire action would be received by the international community. And the main goal of the program was to amaze the world and increase the prestige of the USA, after all.
Revealing a secret project
The classified A119 project has been abandoned and the related documents have apparently been destroyed. Its existence was revealed only after the Cold War by the American astronomer and writer Carl Sagan. When applying for a job at one of the prestigious universities, he mentioned that he had participated in this type of project. In 2000 these claims were confirmed by Leonard Reiffel himself, whose information was published in the scientific journal “Nature”. However, no materials regarding the A119 project have been officially declassified so far.
Main photo source: NASA