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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