The Stupidest Idea Ever

What If We Detonated a Nuclear Bomb on the Moon? - YouTube

I’d heard about this story for years, but always thought it was an urban legend: the top-secret plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Moon (

The secret came out in 2000. Project A119, aka “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” was a plan, in 1958, to kaboom the Moon with a nuclear bomb. A few years later we learned the folks in the Soviet Union had a similar project in the works. The flash was expected to be visible with the naked eye from the Earth–and was expected to “boost morale” of the American people.

A couple of nagging problems soon became apparent:

–What if they, like, missed the moon? Wouldn’t the nuclear bomb then fall back to earth? Oops.

–What if the explosion, uh, did something to the Moon? Like maybe knock it out of its orbit. That could get dicey.

The project was abandoned owing to fear of a “negative public reaction.” They blew up the Moon??? They blew up the freakin’ Moon??? Are they [blank]ing crazy???”

It’s rather nice that we never found out what would happen if they did it.




11 comments on “The Stupidest Idea Ever

  1. Great Scott, is there really no end to the idiocy (or should I call it lunacy in this situation)?

  2. Hey, why not? Instead of using an Hawaiian Island, or the Marshall Islands, or the Nevada dessert, we could fly astronauts to the moon, have them plant the nuclear bombs deep in the ground (kind of like Kim Jong-un) and then detonate it when the astronauts get out of range. What else is the moon good for? Edgar Rice Burroughs might have something to add to this.

  3. The biggest nuke ever made would have little effect on the moon, overall. I’ve been inside a copper mine when a huge detonation took place. These are so large that seismographs can detect them and they are reported ahead of time, so that no one mistakes these for a nuclear explosion. They are impressive, but certainly not enough to visibly damage a mountain. They break up a layer of ground a few feet deep, but that’s it. Even an explosion 1000 times that great would not even begin to harm the moon. It might raise a ruckus in one limited area, but that’s it.

    Because nuclear weapons release a lot of electromagnetic energy, the flash might well be visible from earth. The tests near Las Vegas caused visible light which could be seen for quite a distance, But those tests didn’t take Vegas off the map, a mere 65 miles away.

  4. I don’t think so, That would require a change of orbital velocity, and to accomplish that, would take a great deal of energy. It could have a tiny, tiny effect, perhaps, but changing the orbit more than a tiny hiccup. Earthquakes with the equivalent energy of 500 megatons happen every year or two, on earth. The largest earthquakes, events which happen ever generation or so, could reach 2.5 gigatons, which is way beyond any nuke ever detonated.

    I believe the largest ever detonated was 50 megatons. Over roughly 100 megatons and the blast would punch through the top of the atmosphere and any additional energy would have little, if any, additional destructive effect. The moon has essentially no atmosphere, so a blast there would not have nearly the effect it would have on earth. There would be the equal and opposite reaction of the force of the blast against the surface of the moon, but considering the mass of the moon, which I believe is 162 septillion pounds, 800 sextillion short tons.

    So, if my genuine amateurish math is right, it would take an bomb with a yield of 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons of TNT yield to impart a 1 G acceleration on the moon.

    Let me put it in terms that are more familiar. If you were riding a bicycle, with a combined weight of 220 pounds, for bike & rider, and struck three gnats, that would have roughly the same disruptive effect on the velocity of your bike ride than the biggest nuke ever detonated would have upon the moon, were it detonated in a direct retrograde fashion. Now, I have downshifted my bike because of a headwind, even going downhill, but a swarm of gnats numbering into the thousands has never slowed me down. Three gnats would be unnoticeable.

    The radiation from nuclear weapons is dangerous, but claims that nuclear weapons could disrupt the integrity of a planet, even a body as small as the moon, are not based in fact.

    1. Oh, well… I yield to your superior information.
      But there was still the problem of the rocket missing the moon–it was 1958, I don’t know how accurately they could have aimed it–and falling back to earth with an A-bomb.

    2. I’m not 100% confident in my math. It was done i my head, but the effect of a 50 megaton blast on the moon’s orbit wouldn’t be enough to cause any problems, that much I’d take to the bank.

      I’ve been through a very, very minor earthquake and near a very, very large conventional explosive detonation and there’s no comparison, the earthquake was more powerful by a huge amount. The energy released in earthquakes makes the largest nukes look like a firecracker, and they have been known to have a minuscule effect on the earth’s orbit, such as a tiny fraction of a second being gained or lost, but not nearly enough to create a perceptible change. Planets are pretty big, a pretty massive, and even the moon is huge.

  5. I think if we just sent the left to the moon, we’d get the same advantage but with no blowback.

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