Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

A little Cold War lunacy

From deep in the files of the U.S. Department of Dopey Ideas comes this beaut: During a low point in the Cold War, the Air Force considered detonating a nuclear bomb on the moon.

The year was 1958, and the United States was lagging badly behind the Soviet Union in the space race. Sputnik had orbited a year earlier, and the Russians were close to hitting the moon with a probe, which they would do the following year. Meanwhile, American rockets were blowing up on the launchpad or veering comically off course.

Someone had the bright idea of hitting the moon with a nuclear bomb as a way of demonstrating American technical prowess and skill, and, according to the New York Times, the plan actually received nine months of serious study by a staff that included astronomer Carl Sagan. Cooler heads realized the plan would have been a public-relations disaster _ the rest of the world would have rightly thought we were nuts.

Instead, the United States followed its best instincts, and 11 years later, in a technological feat still unsurpassed, it was Neil Armstrong _ not a nuclear bomb _ that arrived on the moon.