A story that surfaced over a decade ago is making the rounds
again this week, as some media outlets are reporting that the U.S.
considered detonating an atomic bomb on the moon in an effort to
intimidate the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
On Sunday, the Daily Mail revived the story,
citing a 12-year-old interview with physicist Leonard Reiffel, formerly
of the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation and later a
deputy director of NASA. Celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan also was said
to have been involved with the secret project, which reportedly was
known as "A Study of Lunar Research Flights" or "Project A119." Sagan died in 1996.
In the interview, Reiffel reportedly said the plan had been to launch
a rocket that would deliver a small nuclear device to the moon's
surface, where it would detonate.
Reiffel, now 85, is believed to be the only official to have publicly
confirmed his association with the project. However, a 190-page
document called "A Study of Lunar Research Flights, Volume I" is available online through the Information for the Defense Community database.
The document, available in PDF format, is credited to Reiffel and bears
the heading of Air Force Special Weapons Center and the Air Research
and Development Command based at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
The abstract reads:
Nuclear detonations in the vicinity of the moon are
considered in this report along with scientific information which might
be obtained from such explosions. The military aspect is aided by
investigation of space environment, detection of nuclear device testing,
and capability of weapons in space. A study was conducted of various
theories of the moon's structure and origin, and a description of the
probable nature of the lunar surface is given. The areas discussed in
some detail are optical lunar studies, seismic observations, lunar
surface and magnetic fields, plasma and magneti3 field effects, and
organic matter on the moon.
Reiffel spoke to several publications about the project in 2000. His
statements then coincided with a then-new Sagan biography, which
suggested that the celebrity scientist might have breached security by revealing the classified project in an application for an academic fellowship, the Associated Press reported at the time.
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