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Declassified government documents reveal a crazy plan to blow up the Moon

Published Jun 23rd, 2020 12:58PM EDT
nuke the moon
Image: NASA

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  • Government documents that have been declassified reveal a decades-old plan to nuke the Moon.
  • The bombing would have been conducted as a show of force just as the space race was beginning to truly heat up.
  • The plan was called a “scientific disaster” by some who reviewed it, and it was ultimately never carried out.

The Moon is pretty awesome

. It’s the nearest large celestial body to Earth and, as such, it’s become something of a proving ground for mankind’s ability to leave the planet. The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was won by the US when the Apollo missions landed on the surface of the Moon, but according to a new book citing decades-old memos that were previously classified, the years leading up to those missions were filled with a variety of proposals that range from mild to insane.

The book Secrets From the Black Vault contains what its author, John Greenwald, Jr., alleges is proof that the US military had some truly wild ideas regarding the Moon in the 1950s. One of the most incredible supposed plans was a mission to detonate a nuclear bomb on Earth’s tiny neighbor as a show of force to the rest of the world.

In 1959, humans were still a decade away from seeing a man walk on the Moon, but the Soviets were moving quickly after successfully sending Sputnik 1 into Earth orbit. The United States wanted to respond in a way that would show the country was not only serious about space, but also a force to be reckoned with if the Soviet Union’s interest in space shifted from scientific to military.

The plan to nuke the Moon would have shown that even if the Soviets made it to the lunar surface first, the United States was prepared to respond with deadly force if its rival began to use the Moon for strategic military purposes.

Other memos the book addresses include proposals for a permanent base on the Moon, noting that if such a facility “can be established first by the United States, the prestige and psychological advantage to the nation will be invaluable.” The plan, called Project Horizon, would have called for dozens of Saturn 5 rocket launches to the lunar surface to deliver materials to build the base. The proposal suggested it could be built and house a colony of up to 20 people by 1966.

As for the plan to bomb the Moon, the Army never moved forward with it, though it’s not clear why. A separate document addressing the plan suggested it could become an “unparalleled scientific disaster,” so that might have helped sway the powers that be.

The United States didn’t actually accomplish the goal of setting foot on the Moon until 1969, and after the Apollo missions wrapped up, we haven’t been back since, at least in person. That’s going to change soon, with NASA’s renewed interest in crewed landings on the Moon, but thankfully there’s no talk about bombing it this time around.

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