Inside the US government’s plan to blow up the moon

Blow up the moon.

It sounds like the grandiose plan of a James Bond villain. Only the idea came, not from a fictional villain, but the government of the United States of America.

The secret mission, code-named “Project A119,” was conceived at the dawn of the space race by an Air Force division located at New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base.

A June 1959 report entitled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” outlined plans to explode the bomb on the moon’s “terminator” — the area between the part of the surface that’s illuminated by the sun and the part that’s dark.

The explosion would have likely been visible with the naked eye from the earth, in part, because the military had planned to add sodium to the bomb. When blown up, the sodium would glow.

“A nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon was definitely one of the stupider things the government could do,” said John Greenewald, Jr., author of the new book “Secrets From the Black Vault: The Army’s Plan for a Military Base on the Moon and Other Declassified Documents that Rewrote History” (Rowman & Littlefield), out now. Greenewald also runs a Web site called The Black Vault, an online repository of some 2.1 million pages of formerly secret documents pertaining to UFOs, assassinations and other phenomena legally obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

A model diagram of the Project Horizon outpost on the lunar surface.
A model diagram of the Project Horizon outpost on the lunar surface.US Army

The Air Force devised the moon plot as “show a dominance of space by the United States over the Soviet Union, and ultimately, the entire world,” the author writes in his book. The plan was never carried out, perhaps due to the potential for “unparalleled scientific disaster,” as one declassified document puts it.

Another nutty idea was the Army’s scheme to build a military base on the moon. Hatched in 1959 and codenamed “Project Horizon,” the aim was to create a permanent colony to house 10-20 people by late 1966. To get the equipment there, the projections called for an average of 5.3 Saturn rocket launches per month from August 1964 to November 1966. (In the entire history of the American space program, only 19 Saturns were ultimately launched.)

Within the report, a “Lunar Suit” is designed for use. This was laid out prior to the implementation of the Apollo era space suits and was likely just an idea and not a final proposal.
Within the report, a “Lunar Suit” is designed for use. This was laid out prior to the implementation of the Apollo era spacesuits and was likely just an idea and not a final proposal.US Army

“It sounds crazy, but when you get down to it, that’s what the military is all about,” Greenewald says. “They want to figure out how to gain a strategic advantage.”

In a 1959 memo, Lieutenant Arthur G. Trudeau, Chief of Research and Development for the US Army, demanded that America beat the Soviets to the moon and that if a permanent base “can be established first by the United States, the prestige and psychological advantage to the nation will be invaluable.”

The study even went as far as to design suits to be worn by the landing party, as well as a moon bulldozer that would be required for construction. The immense scientific obstacles meant the plan was never carried out — and there was also the issue of cost.

The report estimated that establishing a 12-man outpost and keeping it operational for a year would cost more than $6 billion. (That’s more than $53 billion in today’s dollars.)

As far-fetched as both these ideas seem, the author says that nearly 25 years of collecting government documents has taught him that we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of current or future nutty space schemes. Who knows how the military might be involved in upcoming launches into the cosmos?

“You look at these documents and wonder if this is what they’re telling us,” the author told The Post. “Imagine what they’re not.”