Following the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in the summer of 1969, NASA was feeling pretty good.
It had delivered on President John F. Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the moon and return him safely home before the end of the 1960s. The space agency was literally flying high.
So, what could NASA do to top its amazing moon mission? How about blowing up the moon with a nuclear bomb?
Yes, a NASA scientist wanted to explode a nuclear bomb … on the moon’s surface … as an experiment.
In a story on the front page of the Orlando Sentinel on Dec. 16, 1969 carried the headline: “Nuclear Bomb Blast On Moon Urged” along with the kicker, “Russia Can Take Part, Top Apollo Scientist Says.”
The story explained that the chief experimental scientist in the Apollo program proposed detonating a bomb on the moon as a way to help study its interior.
“Gary V. Latham of Columbia University said he anticipated many ‘political snags’ to his proposal, but promised that the Soviet Union would be kept abreast of all developments,” the Reuters story said. It added that, “he even envisioned a cooperative effort with the Russians.”
Latham outlined plans to use a one- to five-kiloton nuclear bomb on the the moon. He proposed sending an unmanned rocket to carry the nuke to the moon for a blast in November 1970.
So, what could possibly go wrong with exploding a nuclear bomb on the moon?
Latham, the story noted, said he “expected considerable objections from biologists who might fear the destruction of possible life on the moon. The public too, he acknowledged, might be concerned that a nuclear explosion could ‘split the moon in half.’”
Sure, splitting the moon in half. Who needs tides anyway?
As for all that nasty radiation that nuclear bombs cause, Latham said there was no need for Earthlings to be worried. The story said he proposed exploding the nuke on the far side of the moon “to make sure any ensuring radiation would drift away into outer space rather than toward Earth.”
“I would like to ask them [the Russians} to put the bomb on the moon,” he said. (Sure, then we could just blame the Russians if things went bad, right?)
Latham discussed his proposal at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco and said he planned to offer it to the U.S. National Academy of Scientists for their approval.
Since the moon is still in once piece and there have been no reports of later Apollo missions finding nuclear-bomb-created craters on the lunar surface, it’s safe to assume Latham’s proposal was never seriously considered.
You could say his plan, sort of, bombed.
In what sounds like something out of a Boris and Natasha plot from the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Latham even planned to ask the Russians to be in on the project.