November 28th, 2012
07:06 PM ET

U.S. had plans to nuke the moon

By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell

You could easily skip by it in an archive search: a project titled "A Study of Lunar Research Flights." Its nickname is even more low-brow: "Project A-119."

But the reality was much more explosive.

It was a top-secret plan, developed by the U.S. Air Force, to look at the possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the moon.

It was hatched in 1958 - a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear arms race that would last decades and drive the two superpowers to the verge of nuclear war. The Soviets had also just launched Sputnik 1, the world's first satellite. The U.S. was falling behind in the space race, and needed a big splash.

"People were worried very much by (first human in space Soviet cosmonaut Yuri) Gagarin and Sputnik and the very great accomplishments of the Soviet Union in those days, and in comparison, the United States was feared to be looking puny. So this was a concept to sort of reassure people that the United States could maintain a mutually-assured deterrence, and therefore avoid any huge conflagration on the Earth," said physicist Leonard Reiffel, who led the project.

Reiffel, now 85, spoke to CNN at his home in Chicago. A 1959 report Reiffel wrote on the project, declassified many years ago, was obtained online by CNN.

According to Reiffel's report, "The motivation for such a detonation is clearly threefold: scientific, military and political."

The military considerations were frightening. The report said a nuclear detonation on the moon could yield information "...concerning the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare." Reiffel said that in military circles at the time, there was "discussion of the moon as military high ground."

That included talk of having nuclear launch sites on the moon, he said. The thinking, according to Reiffel, was that if the Soviets hit the United States with nuclear weapons first and wiped out the U.S. ability to strike back, the U.S. could launch warheads from the moon.

"These are horrendous concepts," Reiffel said, "and they are hopefully going to remain in the realm of science fiction for the rest of eternity."

The basic plan, Reiffel explained, was for an intercontinental ballistic missile to be launched from an undisclosed location, travel some 240,000 miles to the moon, and detonate on impact. Various news reports since 1958 have said project leaders considered using an atom bomb the same size as "Little Boy," the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, near the end of World War II.

Reiffel, who was cited for that information in those reports, now says he wasn't in on those discussions.

Contrary to some reports, Reiffel told CNN, the device would not have "blown up" the moon. "Absolutely not. It would have been microscopic, so to speak. It would have been, I think, essentially invisible from the Earth, even with a good telescope."

Reiffel had some brilliant minds on his team. One of them was an up-and-coming graduate student named Carl Sagan. Sagan went on to become one of the world's most renowned astronomers, creating the book and popular TV series "Cosmos."

But after working on the moon program, Reiffel said, Sagan violated security when he mentioned the still-classified project on a job application. "He did formally break the classification status of the project", Reiffel said of Sagan, who subsequently died in 1996.

Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, told CNN she's not sure if Sagan ever broke the classification, but if he did, she said, it wasn't intentional. "I can't imagine he would have done that knowingly," Druyan said.

By 1959, Project A-119 was drawing more concern than excitement.

"We didn't want to clutter up the natural radioactivities of the moon with additional bits of radioactivity from the Earth," Reiffel said. The project was abandoned.

Project planners also weren't sure of the reliability of the weapons, and feared the public backlash in the U.S. would be significant," Reiffel said.

"It disappeared in the files of the Pentagon", he said of the project. "They come up with what I believe was the right answer."

Contacted by CNN, the Air Force would not comment on Project A-119.

Filed under: Security Brief
soundoff (3,541 Responses)
  1. ice skating near me

    Howdy, I believe your blog may be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in IE, it's got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other than that, wonderful website!

    June 16, 2021 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  2. total wine near me

    June 16, 2021 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  3. dikmen escort

    Hello friends, its wonderful post about tutoringand completely
    explained, keep it up all the time.

    June 16, 2021 at 11:46 am | Reply
  4. irenwJal

    купить ручку Parker в Москве или купить ручку Parker в Москве

    June 16, 2021 at 11:42 am | Reply
  5. RV Repair Fountain Valley

    Can I simply say what a relief to find a person that genuinely knows what they're talking about on the web. You certainly know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people need to look at this and understand this side of your story. I can't believe you're not more popular given that you definitely possess the gift.

    June 16, 2021 at 11:00 am | Reply
  6. RV Repair Huntington Beach

    Excellent article. I certainly appreciate this website. Thanks!

    June 16, 2021 at 10:31 am | Reply
  7. Sprinter Repair Costa Mesa

    June 16, 2021 at 9:15 am | Reply
  8. wesestotte

    erectile vacuum systems loonee erectile pills without a doctor prescription
    erectile problems Theotte erectile over the counter products
    which erectile dysfunction pills work Bribly erectile supplements

    June 16, 2021 at 8:18 am | Reply
  9. RV Repair Shops Nearby

    June 16, 2021 at 7:49 am | Reply
  10. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    June 16, 2021 at 6:34 am | Reply
  11. Camper Repair Near Me

    Very good write-up. I definitely appreciate this site. Keep it up!

    June 16, 2021 at 6:04 am | Reply
  12. Nearest RV Repair

    June 16, 2021 at 4:54 am | Reply
  13. RV Repair Places Near Me

    I'm excited to discover this site. I need to to thank you for your time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to look at new stuff on your website.

    June 16, 2021 at 4:50 am | Reply
  14. RV Repair Shop

    June 16, 2021 at 4:13 am | Reply
  15. RV Repair Seal Beach

    June 16, 2021 at 3:16 am | Reply
  16. RV Repair California

    You've made some decent points there. I checked on the internet to find out more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.

    June 16, 2021 at 2:13 am | Reply
  17. RV Repair San Clemente California

    You're so interesting! I do not believe I have read something like this before. So great to find somebody with unique thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

    June 16, 2021 at 1:38 am | Reply

    Best view i have ever seen !

    June 16, 2021 at 1:13 am | Reply
  19. RV Repair Santa Ana

    Hello there! I could have sworn Iíve visited this web site before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím definitely happy I discovered it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

    June 16, 2021 at 12:40 am | Reply
  20. wesestotte

    erectile remedies for men loonee erectile disf
    erectile pills canada Theotte erectile tissue in men
    is erectile dysfunction covered by insurance Bribly best erectile dysfunction treatment

    June 16, 2021 at 12:24 am | Reply
  21. RV Repair Near My Location

    June 16, 2021 at 12:10 am | Reply
  22. RV Repair Orange County

    Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this site needs much more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!

    June 16, 2021 at 12:04 am | Reply
  23. RV Repairs Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  24. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    I truly love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím attempting to create my very own blog and want to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Cheers!

    June 15, 2021 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  25. click here

    Hi, i feel that i saw you visited my web site thus i got here to return the desire?.I am attempting to to find things to
    enhance my web site!I guess its adequate to use a few of your ideas!!

    June 15, 2021 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  26. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    June 15, 2021 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  27. RV Repair Near My Location

    June 15, 2021 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  28. Camper Repair Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  29. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    I like looking through an article that can make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

    June 15, 2021 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  30. RV Repair Near Me Now

    June 15, 2021 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  31. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly feel this website needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the info!

    June 15, 2021 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  32. RV Repair Nearby

    Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a very good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I procrastinate a lot and don't manage to get nearly anything done.

    June 15, 2021 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  33. RV Repair Shop

    This web site really has all of the information and facts I needed concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.

    June 15, 2021 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  34. wesestotte

    erectile support loonee best erectile dysfunction medicine
    erectile after you quit drinking Theotte erectile stamina in older men
    discount erectile dysfunction pills Bribly does erectile dysfunction affect fertility

    June 15, 2021 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  35. Camper Repairs Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  36. RV Repair Shops Nearby

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be useful to read through articles from other authors and practice something from their sites.

    June 15, 2021 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  37. Nearest RV Repair

    June 15, 2021 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  38. Camper Repairs Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  39. RV Repair Places Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  40. Camper Repair Shop Near Me

    June 15, 2021 at 11:54 am | Reply
  41. RV Repairs Near My Location

    June 15, 2021 at 11:54 am | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Leave a Reply to jwest


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.