Did Westerners Think The Soviets Were Going To Nuke The Moon?

Reading up on Sputnik in 1957 and I found an article (“Red Rocket To Moon”, Connacht Sentinel, Nov 5th, 1957) that claims:

This was in a regional newspaper in at the time not exactly on the pulse Ireland so I am willing to think the writer of the article either got it wrong or was just making shit up but I had never before seen it suggested that the Soviets had intended to nuke the moon.

Was this belief widespread? Did it carry much credence amongst Western governments?

I don’t think so, but it was a rumor. Here’s an article from the Pittsburgh Press talking about it:


And, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there were actual US and Soviet plans to nuke the moon, but they never came to anything.

After the launch of Sputnik, the greater fear was that the Russians would base nuclear armed rockets there to shoot at the USA. Then Senator Lyndon Johnson is said to have made some comment about the Russians taking the High Ground and “just like dropping pumpkins off a highway bridge”.

Prior to Sputnik, then US Sec’y of State Wilson absolutely forbade NACA and Von Braun’s group at Redstone from putting anything into orbit. They probably could have stacked enough of existing rockets together to put something up there then.

This thread recalls an uncle of mine, who was a schoolteacher and something of a rhymester / poet. In the late 1950s, he created a comic “musical” (touching on underlying serious issues) for the kids at his school. It involved international rivalry concerning the moon. One scene of it, had a character “the Angel of Peace”, singing about a disturbing turn of events:

“Your three big Powers here below [ US / USSR / UK]
Are all in space competing.
It’s my department’s job, you know,
To bring them to a meeting.
They plan to land upon the moon
A force of occupation;
And build upon it, very soon,
An atom-bombing station.”

I’d imagined hitherto, that the above was deliberately, hyperbolically daft, for comic effect; but content of this thread informs, that at the time people were thinking about – allowing for some conflating – serious scenarios of this kind of thing.

Some people in that era also believed the atomic bomb would set the atmosphere on fire and kill us all, or that underwater nuclear tests would blow a hole in the bottom of the sea and all the water would drain out. So, yeah, they believed some stuff that seems pretty absurd with the benefit of hindsight.

The plans to ‘nuke the Moon’ were little more than Cold War saber rattling. It would give international prestige both knowing that they were able to send an A-bomb that far and, more importantly, have half the world be able to witness it live with their naked eyes (probably just barely). I’ve always felt that Russia, normally so secretive and still having a large peasant population, was more keen on the idea than the US…

That would have been so awesome.

It would have been almost invisible.
Like a camera strobe seen from 10 miles away.

I bet we could hit the moon with a nuke big enough to see go off.

Not really much needed at all.

From the wiki of Project A119 above:

We’ve had this discussion before.
With no atmosphere, the fireball would be very small, and very short-lived. The explosion would like like a tiny pinpoint of bight light that flashed for a few seconds at most.

Maybe a bunker buster design could get in under some thick dust ?

But anyway its still.

The space race was basically a race to win hearts and minds.

To the USA , the space race was clearly about ending the cold war, “hey we got there first, capitalism works !”. Communism wanted to say that “communists can do it too”, but the communists didnt have anything good enough at that stage, the LM is particularly sophisticated, but so to the light weight CM was high tech and marvellous , compared to russian tech at the time. Its like Shuttle to Apollo… “wow, ceramic instead of wood for heat shielding !”… high tech… decades of research…

Landing a man on the moon was considered a goal that America could easier achieve than Russia due to the differences in our rocket tech. (Russian rockets could put more payload pounds in orbit where as ours were more accurate) So Nuking the moon would probably have been an easier goal for Russia and a bad choice for our “race” with them.