Today’s tidbit of Cold War research might not have actually made it into my novel — but it’s just too good not to share. So, sit back, relax and let me tell you about PROJECT A119… aka THE MISSION TO NUKE THE MOON…
The year was 1958, and the USA was desperate… real desperate. In a single year, the USSR had embarrassed the USA numerous times in the budding SPACE RACE. First with Sputnik 1 — the world’s first manmade satellite. And then Sputnik 2 — which carried the first living animal into space (Laika, a stray dog plucked off the streets of Moscow.)
Gone was the cushiony post-war technological lead the USA had enjoyed for over a decade. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, not only had the USSR developed their own atomic bomb… but they had leapfrogged the United State’s ability to deliver this weapon quickly and accurately (thanks to their R-7 rocket — the first ICBM). Long-range bombers like the B-52 — a strategy of deterrence the United States had sunk billions of dollars into — were suddenly archaic and obsolete. The future was space.
To answer this call, the United States Air Force proposed a top-secret mission called PROJECT A119. Its objective was shockingly simple and insultingly inane: detonate a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon. Why? To remind the rest of the world that the USA was still king of the castle. Assuming the blast would be visible to the naked eye, it was to be a show of force — the USAF insisted — that would boost the morale of the American people and reinstill confidence in the USA’s military might.
So guess who got dragged into this while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Chicago — none other than CARL SAGAN (haha… now my readers see the connection to my novel.) Only 24 years old, Sagan was tasked with calculating the mathematical expansion of the dust cloud that would be created by the explosion and, in short, just how visible this would be from Earth.
Fortunately, as their deadline approached, the powers-that-be got cold feet, and the project was scrapped. Several factors lead to this decision: would such an explosion leave the surface of the moon too radioactive for future research? What if the missile simply missed its target? There would be nobody to blame but themselves and no lost astronauts to exalt as a buffer to the national embarrassment. And what if the general public simply reacted negatively to such a blatant act of aggression?
Yep. Punting on this was for the best.
There’s actually a fun little anecdote about how Sagan’s involvement in this top-secret mission came to light… but I’ll save that for another day. If you want to learn more about PROJECT A119, there’s a fantastic article by Vince Houghton, historian and curator of the International National Spy Museum, that you can read here.
And if you’re in the mood for an action-packed, full-throttle Cold War adventure, check out my novel. It’s full of knife-fights, car chases, and, yes, nuclear weapons. It’s now available on Amazon: https://amz.run/3ES5
As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to subscribe to my mailing list so you don’t miss my next post! Thanks!