The year was 1958 and the United States feared that it was lagging behind in the Space Race. The Soviets had already managed to put an artificial satellite into space, a first for humanity.
Pictured: Pretty impressive, for a Commie!
So the U.S. wanted to one up the Soviets in a manner that “popped” a little better, publicity-wise, than the second artificial satellite ever launched by man. Especially after their first attempt with the Vanguard Rocket blew up spectacularly just off the launch pad.
So, after what must have been the best NASA brainstorming session ever, Project A119 was put into motion.
The general concept of A119 was pretty simple: The United States would put the first man-made object on the moon. And that object would be a nuclear weapon.
Pictured: President Eisenhower after hearing about Project A119, but before NASA told him they weren’t kidding.
But wait, it gets better. The U.S. wasn’t just going to nuke The Moon. We were going to hit the Moon with a nuke of sufficient power that the blast would be visible to the naked eye on Earth. The Air Force and Eisenhower were significantly less keen on the idea, as they feared that it might inflame Cold War tensions and would set a very negative precedent for human interaction with extra terrestrial planetary bodies.
Also, according to one project consulted on the project, it might have destroyed the “man on the moon” pattern on the lunar surface.