Declassified: Plans For Military Moon Base, Explosions, and Espionage
Marking the 45th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's "one small step," the National Security Archive revealed several declassified documents that, among other things, showed that the US had considered militarizing and even blowing up the Moon.
Of course, the Space Race inspired its fair share of wacky conspiracy theories. Some people believe that Nazi Germany was actually the first nation to reach the Moon, but kept things under wraps in case Adolf Hitler ever needed to get spirited away to a Nazi moon-base where he could plot his revenge on the Allies in peace.
Other people even deny that the "one giant leap for mankind" actually happened. Instead, they claim the Apollo 11 Moon landing was a fake event directed by American film great Stanley Kubrick.
There is one theory however, that actually proved to be true. In the later 1950s through early 1960s, the Army and Air Force conducted studies and thought exercises that considered placing a military base on the Moon.
These Cold War era plans even discuss the logistics of building a surveillance platform and "Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System."
According to the National Security Archive's Jeffery Richelson, the Military Lunar Base Program and the Air Force's Lunar Expedition Plan (LUNEX) were two classified studies that backed Army and Air Force lobbies working to have the lunar landing be a secret military operation.
The strained relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union was approaching a tipping point in 1961, dangerously close to pushing the two great nations into all-out nuclear war. In an arms race fueled by the threat of mutually assured destruction, experts had grown worried that Soviet space efforts had surpassed the United States, especially after the Red Nation became the first to place a spacecraft (Sputnik) into orbit and a man in space.
"For much of the US effort there was the concern that the Soviet astronauts would also arrive on the Moon first," Richelson explained. (Scroll to read on...)
The Air Force's plans for the Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System in particular shows how desperate the United States was to one-up the Soviets, making plans to create a base on the Moon capable of launching warheads towards Earth. The plan detailed logistics that expected the base to be established by 1969, given adequate funding and White House approval.
The Army's Project Horizon, however, takes the cake for most comprehensive plans for miltarizing the Moon. The two-part study, published in 1959, argues the extreme importance of a moon base, claiming that anything other than the complete control of lunar space would halt US advancement.
"The lunar outpost is required to develop and protect potential United States interests on the Moon; to develop techniques in moon-based surveillance of the Earth and space, in communications relay, and in operations on the surface of the Moon; to serve as a base for exploration of the Moon, for further exploration into space and for military operations on the Moon if required; and to support scientific investigations on the Moon."
The study predicted that with a $6 billion budget and a whopping 147 Saturn A-class rocket launches, the United States could have enough supplies and personnel on the Moon to have construction of the base completed by 1966. Of course, the project never saw "lift-off," never progressing past "feasibility studies."
Blowing Up the Moon
As if launching missiles from the Moon wasn't enough, A Study of Lunar Research Flights - a study famous astronomer Carl Sagan personally worked on in 1959 - proposed a radical solution to the stalemate that was the Cold War. (Scroll to read on...)
Blow up a part of the Moon, and they are sure to back down! Ah, 1960s reasoning...
According to the National Security Archive, when a top-secret portion of the report was finally declassified, it was revealed that these "lunar research flights" were intended to bring a nuclear warhead to the Moon - one large enough to make a grand statement.
Leonard Reiffel of the Armour Research Institute later said that their "foremost intent was to impress the world with the prowess of the United States."
Thankfully, the plan was scrapped before it could be put into motion. The Air Force determined that the risks - such as flying moon debris hurtling towards the Earth - outweighed the potential benefit of such a display.
"There were other ways to impress the public that we were not about to be overwhelmed by the Russians," Reiffel told the New York Times. "There was no point in ruining the pristine environment of the Moon."
Catch and Release
As cutthroat as the Cold War's race to the Moon was, these declassified documents also revealed a remarkably considerate side of espionage.
A report finally released in 1994 revealed that US agents had actually stolen a Soviet spacecraft called the Lunick while it was being transported to an exhibition of modern Soviet industrial achievements in an unspecified country.
The report, titled "Kidnapping the Lunick," surprisingly reads like a spy novel, poking fun at Soviet inadequacies even while boasting a (now crossed out) SECRET stamp on the top right corner of each page.
"The Soviets would not be foolish as to expose a real production item of such advanced equipment to the preying eyes of imperialist intelligence. Or would they? ... an operation was laid out to find out." (Scroll to read on...)
According to the report, US agents easily pulled a classic driver swap, and drove off with a near-complete Lunick model while everyone else in the city was eating supper.
"When it was clear that there were no Soviets around, the truck was stopped at the last possible turn-off. A canvas was thrown over the crate [containing the Lunick] and a new driver took over."
The agents even put the original driver up in a hotel with a hot meal where he was kept for the night.
After taking apart, photographing, and then reassembling the Lunick, the agents proceeded to return the stolen craft from where they found it.
"Returned in good condition," the report reads. "To this day, there has been no indication that the Soviets ever discovered the Lunick was borrowed for a night."