Nuke The Moon!

The United States once studied the possibility of detonating an atomic bomb on the Moon as some kind of demonstration to the Soviets during the Cold War:

A story that surfaced over a decade ago is making the rounds again this week, as some media outlets are reporting that the U.S. considered detonating an atomic bomb on the moon in an effort to intimidate the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

On Sunday, the Daily Mail revived the story, citing a 12-year-old interview with physicist Leonard Reiffel, formerly of the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation and later a deputy director of NASA. Celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan also was said to have been involved with the secret project, which reportedly was known as “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” or “Project A119.” Sagan died in 1996.

In the interview, Reiffel reportedly said the plan had been to launch a rocket that would deliver a small nuclear device to the moon’s surface, where it would detonate.

Reiffel, now 85, is believed to be the only official to have publicly confirmed his association with the project. However, a 190-page document called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights, Volume I” is available online through the Information for the Defense Community database. The document, available in PDF format, is credited to Reiffel and bears the heading of Air Force Special Weapons Center and the Air Research and Development Command based at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico.


In an interview with The Observer, also in 2000, Reiffel said he did not know why the plans were scrapped but was glad that they were. “Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered,” he said.

In a new interview with The Huffington Post, Richard Rhodes, a Pulitzer-prize-winning author and an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said he was unfamiliar with Project A119. If there had been a plan to send a nuclear missile to the moon in the 1950s, he said, it would have been hard-pressed to advance past the study stage. The first Soviet craft crash-landed on the moon in 1959, followed three years later by the American craft Ranger 4, reports National Geographic.

“I doubt we had any rockets that would have had the power to leave earth’s orbit and hit the moon,” Rhodes said. “It takes a lot of power to take things out of earth’s gravitational pull, much more than to just put something in orbit.”

Besides, nuking the Moon would have interfered with our long term plan to nuke Jupiter.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jeremy says:

    Not to mention it would have upset the moonbat nests, who would have all come down and attacked us here.

    Moonbats. I can’t stand them.

  2. mantis says:

    It’s true! Here’s video from the project.

  3. john personna says:


    I’d worry more about Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Not the dumbest thing they did during that time – ask the people in Eastern Washington. They released radiation from Hanford to see what impact it would have on the downwind population. I have to cousins who died of cancer as a result.

  5. Graham says:

    @Ron Beasley: It’s so weird hearing about the things the US and USSR governments did in the 50s in the name of nuclear research. I think we all assume they’re better about that sort of thing today, but it will be interesting to see if anything comes to light in a couple decades that makes everyone go “WTF?” in hindsight.

    Or maybe it’s all in the open now and the worst they do is create terrorists with the collateral damage from a never-ending drone war.

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    FrankJ was way ahead of you… that’s been his goal for at least a decade.

  7. rodney dill says:

    Fortunately, calmer heads, that actually like the moon prevailed.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    I hear Newt Gingrich is trying to revive the program. He has a book and a video out.

  9. Rick Almeida says:


    I thought for sure this would be a Rickroll.