During the cold war, the USSR and the US went to extraordinary lengths to gain a technological edge over one another. This was especially true with nuclear weapon technology.
To improve their nuclear devices, they tested their bombs on land, underground, underwater, and even in space. The U.S. even conducted experiments which involved using nukes for oil fracking while the Soviets used a nuclear bomb to seal an oil well at the bottom of the ocean.
Given the depth of both countries’ nuclear programs, it raises the question; has anyone ever attempted to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon?
Top Secret Research Program
In the late 1950s, the United States Air Force developed a program called Project A119. The project was officially titled, “A Study of Lunar Research Flights”. Unofficially it was called, “Let’s nuke the moon for the hell of it, just to show the world we can”.
Its purpose and goal was consistent with the dozens of other projects going on during the cold war – to simply one-up the Soviets. The U.S was lagging behind in the space race at the time, and believed that nuking the moon would be a relatively simple thing to achieve and would be great PR for public perception.
For maximum effect, the detonation was to be at the edge of the dark side of the moon. By detonating it there, the light from the sun would illuminate the mushroom cloud and other debris & dust particles kicked up, making the explosion visible from Earth. If they were going to do it, they wanted to make sure everyone, including the Soviets, saw it.
“On Second Thought…”
Despite the research project being fast-tracked, it was eventually scrapped. While it would have certainly caught the Soviet’s attention, and demonstrated U.S. superiority, it was decided that the public would not have responded favorably.
Dr. David Lowry, a noted British historian, was quoted saying, “This is obscene. To imagine that the first contact humans would have had with another world would have been to explode a nuclear bomb on it. Had they went ahead with it, we would never have had the iconic image of Neil Armstrong taking ‘one giant leap for mankind’.”
Ulivi, Paolo; Harland, David Michael; Zhou, Chaochen (2004). Lunar Exploration: Human Pioneers and Robotic Surveyors
Angelo, Joseph A (2007). Human Spaceflight (illustrated ed.). Infobase Publishing. p. 28.
“Scientist Withdraws Plans for Nuclear Blast on Moon”. St. Petersburg Times. January 7, 1970. p. 7.