Tag Archives: Space Race

Did You Know… That the U.S. Almost Dropped A Nuke on the Moon During the Cold War?

After the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, two major global powers emerged: Russia in the east, and the United States (along with its NATO allies) in the west.

More than anything, the Cold War was an arms race. Both sides had built up their nuclear arsenals during the war, and both were fearful of having less firepower than the other. Many people thought that an all-out nuclear war was imminent.

During this period, the U.S. military came up with the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon as a show of force.

Leonard Reiffel was the physicist who headed the project at the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation in the late 1950s.

Leonard Reiffel, who is now 86 years old

In 2000, he sat down for an interview with The Observer to tell the story:

“It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth…

The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”

Reiffel also pointed out that a big influence on the idea was the fact that we were lagging behind in the “Space Race”.

In July of 1955, during the height of the Cold War, the United States announced that it would be launching satellites into space. Not to be outdone, Russia announced their own satellite project four days later. The U.S. lost that leg of the race when Russia launched Sputnik in October of 1957.

The front page of The New York Times on the day Sputnik was launched (October 4, 1957)

Reiffel voiced his concerns as a scientist about the idea of nuking the moon, but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears:

“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.”

In 1958, officers from the Air Force had asked Reiffel to ‘fast-track’ a project to investigate what a nuclear explosion on the moon would look like, and what it’s effects would be.

So he hired none other than a young Carl Sagan to do the calculation of how a nuclear mushroom cloud would expand in the low gravity environment on the moon.

Carl Sagan

Sagan, who pioneered for the study of potential life on other planets, would later become famous for popularizing science in mainstream culture with his show “The Cosmos”.

Despite the highly classified nature of the project, it was later revealed to his biographer that Sagan actually discussed parts of the project in his application for the prestigious Miller Institute graduate fellowship at Berkley (he got in, of course).

Either way, top-secret project A119: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’, never came to fruition. Reiffel ended his story by saying,

“Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered.”

A spokesman from the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Read the full story from the Guardian here.

China Ends 37 Year Lunar Landing Dry Spell By Landing Their First Moon Rover Ever Successfully (Video)

China landed an unmanned spacecraft called Chang’e-3 today (12/14/13) successfully on the Moon, according to Shanghai media. Making it the first “soft landing” on the moon since 1976, and allowing China to join the club as one of three countries to have ever landed missions on the moon (China, USA, Soviet Union). A “soft landing” is a controlled landing that does not damage the craft or the equipment it carries. Also according to NASA, although this mission is being entirely organized and controlled by the Chinese all data collected will be given to the international science community. Check Out the below video for full coverage of the mission.

The landmark mission is something that China is very proud of. Although very behind in the Space Industry, it is a step in the right direction in accomplishing their long term goal of building a working space station by 2020. The Apollo Missions brought back over 800 pounds of moon rock as well as numerous amounts of diverse data, thus many feel there is little scientific reason to send a mission to the moon at this time. But regardless, the Chinese people are very proud of their mission as they should be, it is still a great accomplishment that only three countries have ever achieved.

All Lunar Landings prior to China's December 14, 2013 Landing
All Lunar Landings prior to China’s December 14, 2013 Landing

Check Out the below video for more information on the recent Chinese Landing.

Check Out the below video footage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the Moon back in 1969.

The Space Shuttle Gets a Face Lift

 

Sierra Nevada Corporation is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to “develop and configure Dream Chaser for International Space Station servicing”. The Dream Chaser is one of several new space vehicles that is currently in development. Many private companies around the world are in a race to see who can first develop an affordable solution for ISS crew member transportation. The Dream Chaser offers a traditional look that strongly resembles NASA’s retired Space Shuttle. Although the spacecraft is still in development stages, NASA has high hopes for the Dream Chaser’s future. Sierra Nevada Corporation describes the vehicle…

Dream Chaser® – a winged, lifting-body spacecraft that provides a flexible, credible, affordable solution for ISS crew transportation and a viable path to the future of human space flight operations for NASA, international and commercial space applications”

Video of Dream Chaser in Testing Stages: