Friday, July 2, 2010

NPR Highlights 1962 Nuclear Explosion in Space

Check out NPR's Robert Krulwich piece about the U.S. nuclear tests in space.  In 1962, the U.S. launched a nuclear device, a bomb 1000 times larger than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, and detonated it 250 miles above the Earth over the Pacific Ocean.  (Krulwich erroneously reports that this is the only nuclear explosion in space.  Both the U.S. and Russia tested nuclear weapons above the earth's atmosphere, as he indeeds reports later in the article.)

Codenamed "Starfish Prime," the military formulated this operation just days after the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts, which surround Earth.  The plan was to send up several missiles in order to glean whether "a) If a bomb's radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might "alter" the natural shape of the belts."

One hopes that this kind of testing never occurs again.

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