Obscurious – Project A119, A Study of Lunar Research Flights

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.” ~ Einstein

obscurious.4 Nuclear Testing on the Moon

In the late 1950’s, during the height of the Cold War, the United States planned a top-secret experiment involving nuclear weapons testing on the dark side of the moon.

The classified project was named A Study of Lunar Research Flights, also known as Project A119.  Plans were to detonate a nuclear bomb – specifically, a W25 warhead, which is a lightweight warhead with a relatively low nuclear yield.

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. ~ Dr. Leonard Reiffel, Armour Research Foundation.

According to an interview with The Observer in 2000, Dr. Leonard Reiffel, the physicist who led the project, revealed that the dark side of the moon was chosen as a site because it could not be seen from Earth, making it an ideal playground for destructive experimentation. Reiffel has claimed that the testing would have been the scale of Hiroshima – but would have had little environmental impact on Earth. Interestingly, Carl Sagan was hired to calculate the visibility of such an explosion from Earth and its ultimate effect.

It would later be revealed that the Pentagon opposed a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union because they had devised their own plan to detonate a nuclear warhead on the moon, attempting to catch up in the Space Race.

In the end, Project A119 was scrapped for unknown reasons. Detailed documentation and reports of the experiment were destroyed in 1987 by the Armour Research Foundation.


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