This episode begins with a story culled from my new book, “Space Oddities: Forgotten Stories Of Mankind’s Exploration Of Space”. It’s a story about how the Soviet Union actually thought that if they were the first to land humans on the moon, the world wouldn’t be able to see it and the announcement may be deemed a hoax.
Sound familiar, right? Their answer was to nuke the moon.
The plan was quickly dismissed, but it is still a fascinating story about the possibility of such a landing being deemed a hoax. And while the Soviets dismissed the plan, the Americans had their own plan to explode nuclear bombs on the lunar surface.
The title of the episode is a quote from former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
A 1950s film that demonstrates steps you can take to survive an atomic bomb explosion…good luck.
Public Reaction To Sputnik (Video)
Omaha, Nebraska television station KETV talks with residents about the launch of Sputnik in October 1957.
Space Oddities Podcast
Air Date: 08/01/2022
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Welcome to “Space Oddities: Forgotten Stories from Mankind’s Exploration of Space”. I’m Joe Cuhaj.
Episode 8: History Is More The Product Of Chaos Than Conspiracy
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So, I’m starting off this episode with a comment that will make some of you roll your eyes and say, “not again”, and for others, you may simply turn off this episode because you just don’t believe what I’m about to say. But trust me, this is going somewhere. Here it is: The Apollo moon landings really did happen. We did land men on the moon.
Now, I’m not here to rehash all of the scientific evidence and debunk conspiracy theories. That has been done time and time again. But that conspiracy theory – that the moon landings were a hoax – led me to a fascinating story that I cover in my new book, “Space Oddities.”
During research, I came upon a book written by Boris Chertok, a leading Russian rocket scientist, that was titled, Rockets and People: Hot Days of the Cold War Volume III. In the book, Chertok tells the story of how during the earliest days of space exploration, the Soviet Union saw into the future and understood that such a conspiracy theory could happen if they were the first to land humans on the moon. They even came up with a plan to debunk it.
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Only two years after the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, the Soviets sent the first probes beyond the Earth’s gravitational pull – Luna 1 and Luna 2. Both probes were sent toward the moon to study interplanetary material and gasses, cosmic rays, and meteorite particles.
The twin spacecraft would be the first to either fly-by or orbit the moon. Tracking systems of the day were rudimentary at best, so the spacecraft would release a cloud of glowing orange sodium gas that could be spotted by astronomers on Earth to show where the spacecraft were located during their flight.
The flights proved that the Russian interplanetary technology was rock solid and that they could proceed with their lunar ambitions – to be the first to land a man on the moon. But in the back of their minds, Soviet scientists had a nagging feeling about a lunar landing: Once you land, how can you prove to the world that you actually did it? No one would be able to see it on Earth and the spectacular feat would be labeled a hoax (sound familiar?).
Their answer to the problem? Nuke it.
[Three, Two, One documentary clip]
In 1958, Chertok suggested that upon landing on the moon, the cosmonauts could detonate an atomic bomb near the lunar landing site to prove that they had made it.
In a 1999 interview with the London newspaper, the Independent, Chertok said, “The plan was to send an atomic bomb to the moon so that astronomers across the world could photograph its explosion on film.”
Well, after a series of long, deliberate, and serious discussions on the subject, the idea was tossed into the dust bin of history. Scientists realized that since the moon had no atmosphere, there wouldn’t be the telltale mushroom cloud or hellish red fireball. The flash would be so short lived, that it might not even register on film.
And what about the moon? What would happen to it if a nuclear explosion occurred?
[Space 1999: Breakaway episode clip]
Unlike the 1970s sci-fi television show, Space 1999, where the moon is blasted out of its orbit due to a nuclear accident, a real-life bomb would have only left a small crater.
But that wasn’t the only time the moon was threatened to be nuked. In fact, the U.S. also had nuclear plans for our nearest celestial neighbor.
[Atomic Scare clip]
The story begins in the height of the Cold War, long before President John F. Kennedy sent the United States on its voyage to the moon. In 1956, the world seemed to be on the brink of nuclear annihilation when Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khruschev told a gathering of western ambassadors, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.”
Those ominous words were underscored in October 1958 when the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik.
[Sputnik public reaction clip]
The world began to shudder. If the Soviet Union could launch a satellite into space, then surely, they could send a nuclear warhead to any place in the world they wanted.
The U.S. had to counter act the potential threat that Sputnik and the Soviet rocket program posed to the world. In an act of desperation, Operation A119 was born.
The idea was to show the world that the U.S. could go one better than the Soviets by creating a mushroom cloud on the moon so awesome that it could be seen anywhere on Earth and put the Russians on notice that the U.S. nuclear technology was not to be messed with.
An A119 project report was completed but that is as far as the project went. The report did not include any of the technical details about how A119 would work and be carried out and the project, and the report, were shelved and marked classified that is until they were unclassified in 2000.
In his book, “Nuking the Moon”, project lead Dr. Leonard Reiffel discussed many similar projects that the United States had concocted during World War II and the Cold War. One of the most bizarre included dropping a thousand bats – that’s right, real, live flying bats – with incendiary devices strapped to their bodies over Tokyo and other Japanese cities curing the war.
While these ideas seem incredible and unimaginable to us today, we have to keep them in their historical context. World War II had killed millions and the Cold War presented ….
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…a real threat of Armageddon to the world. As Hippocrates said, desperate times call for desperate measures, no matter how outlandish they may seem to later generations.
I’m Joe Cuhaj and thank you for joining me for this episode of Space Oddities. You can read more fascinating, offbeat, and obscure space tales like these in my new book, aptly titled Space Oddities: Forgotten Stories of Mankind’s Exploration of Space, available at your favorite online or hometown bookstore.
If you liked this episode then tell a friend and be sure to like us on Facebook - visit facebook.com/SpaceOddityBook (that’s all one word) or drop me a line from my website, joe-cuhaj.com (that’s spelled CUHAJ). While you’re there, you can learn more about my other books and upcoming appearances.
Our theme music is called “Inspired” courtesy of BenSounds.Com. We’ll see you next time with more space tales.
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