July 23, 2019

Astronomy Video of the Week: To Nuke the Moon

Thor launches from the Cape.

Image credit: British Pathé

There are lots of strange proposals from the early Space Age that —thankfully— never came to pass. We recently came across one of those stranger proposals in an old newsreel courtesy of British Pathé. An amazing resource, British Pathé hosts thousands of old newsreels from the mid-to early 20th century featuring a treasure trove of grand old vids with rocket launches, solar eclipse expeditions, and much more.

The video Moon Rocket? From 1958, makes mention of an early proposal by the United States to detonate an atomic bomb on the Moon:

The rocket shown is an early Thor Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, not nearly powerful enough to escape Earth’s gravity. This was in the early era of the Space Age shortly after the launch of Sputnik, when the United States was still struggling to get the Navy’s Vanguard program off the ground.

The proposed weapon would’ve been detonated on the nearside of the Moon, presumably in full view of the Soviet Union. And while said proposal never happened, Russia’s Luna 2 spacecraft did indeed become the first human artifact to impact the Moon on this day in 1959, sans atomic weapon. The United States would eventually follow suit with the Ranger program in the early 1960s.

Kudos to British Pathé for putting up these great old videos. We’ve often wondered how many other obscure videos of forgotten launches exist out there buried in old archives, waiting to once again see the light of day.

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