Saturday, 2 August 2014

Atomic lunacy

James Hider’s intriguing story “Americans planned nuclear explosion on the Moon” in the
The Times,(July 26, is based on what the describes as documents released by the National Security Archive (NSA) showing that the US Air Force dreamed up a “lunar-based earth bombardment system.”
Although the new NSA documents give details of this literal ‘atomic lunacy’, this is not the first time this extraordinary story has emerged. Fourteen years ago I worked with Antony Barnett, then investigations editor at the Observer, now a reporter with Channel Four’s Dispatches programme, on this very story. (“US planned one big nuclear blast for mankind,” Sunday May 14, 2000)
I first came across this barely believable, hitherto top-secret Project A119, when I read a letter by US space scientist, Leonard Reiffel (whom your own article cites) - and who worked with the Armour Research Foundation (which subsequently became the Illinois Institute of Technology Research) - in the prestigious natural science journal Nature in 2000.
Dr Reiffel described how Project A119, was benignly entitled 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' to cover its real purpose, and explained how “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,' he said yesterday,” adding “'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.”
He told us that he 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, he insisted were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.
Another plan to detonate an atom bomb on the moon was drawn up secretly by the RAND Corporation in 1956, with code name “Red Socks”. (
We should all be grateful this literal lunacy never took place.

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