Information about plans to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon in the 1950s were brought to light by scientists that formerly worked on the project. The first news of the project came after Carl Sagan, who had worked on the project, died. Since that time Dr. Leonard Reiffel, the lead physicist on the project, has come forward to discuss the project in limited detail.
Essentially the US Air Force was seriously considering plans to detonate a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon at a time when the moon was visible over the Soviet Union in order to make a statement. This project was in planning after the Soviets had launched the Sputnik Satellite that was busy taking pictures of the moon.
“'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. 'The US was lagging behind in the space race.'”
“Reiffel was approached by senior US Air Force officers in 1958, who asked him to 'fast-track' a project to investigate the visibility and effects of a nuclear explosion on the moon. The top-secret Project A119, was entitled 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights'”
“Reiffel produced eight reports between May 1958 and January 1959 on the feasibility of the plan, all of which were destroyed in 1987 by the foundation. Reiffel would not discuss details of these reports, believing they were still classified, but it was clear the conclusion was that the explosion would have been visible from Earth.”
Additional information can be found at the abcnews website:
What is significant about this project is that it reveals the attitude of people in power in America, at least during the 1950s, and the actions that they deemed reasonable. The goal of the proposed action was obviously to instill a feeling of fear of American force in the Russians as well as the people of the world. I can’t possibly image any good outcome from instilling this type of fear in the Russians. The mostly likely reaction that the Russians would have had to this event would have been to increase military production and work harder on their weapons of mass destruction programs.
Obviously the project was never seen through to completion, and we may never know why, but the fact that it was not only considered but worked on for a year and a half is disturbing in and of itself.