It’s strange to think that, if history has skewed slightly differently, mankind’s first contact with the moon wouldn’t have been Neil Armstrong’s foot. It would have been a nuclear warhead.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, into space. America watched on gloomily: their own 1957 launch, the Vanguard rocket, had recently exploded at launch. The U.S. was losing the Space Race. Faced with the prospect of intergalactic Soviet missiles raining down on Washington, they turned to what they new best: making nukes.
The government assembled a team of physicists and bomb experts and set them to work on a new mission – sending a nuclear warhead into the moon. The logic kind of made sense. Blowing up the moon would send a very un-subtle message to Russia and everyone else that America was not to be messed with. It would also teach those pesky moon rocks who’s boss.
The secret mission became known as ProjectA119. Thankfully it never got past the prototyping phase – NASA decided a moon landing made more sense than a moon explosion. We only know about the plan thanks to writer Keay Davidson, who was writing a biography of Carl Sagan in the 1990s (Sagan was one of the members of ProjectA119). The project’s leader, noted physicist Leonard Reiffel, came out in 2000 and confirmed the story.
“The real argument we made,” Reiffel said, “was that the was no point in ruining the pristine environment of the moon. There were other ways to impress the public.” We could have told you that, Keay.