Forty-five years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his “one small step” for mankind, becoming the first person to set foot on the moon. The program that resulted in that historic event — managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — had been a very public one ever since its announcement by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Even the Soviet government had publicized aspects of its own effort.
But there were also highly secret elements to the U.S. and Soviet schemes, which are the subject of today’s National Security Archive posting of previously classified records. The documents focus on three topics — early U.S. military plans, including the possibility of conducting nuclear tests in space, the use of the moon to reflect signals for military or intelligence purposes, and U.S. intelligence analyses and estimates of Soviet missions and their intentions to land a man on the lunar surface.
The posting includes:
- Army and Air Force studies from 1959 – 1961 on the creation of a military lunar base, with possible uses as a surveillance platform (for targets on earth and space) and the Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System (Document 1a, Document 1b, Document 3, Document 4).
- A study on the detonation of a nuclear device on or in the vicinity of the moon (Document 2).
- The use of the lunar surface to relay signals from Washington to Hawaii and from U.S. spy ships (Document 15).
- Collection of Soviet radar signals after they bounced off the moon — a technique known as Moon Bounce ELINT (Document 11, Document 14).
- The U.S. theft and return of a Soviet space capsule during an exhibition tour (Document 13).
- A 1965 estimate of Soviet intentions with regard to a manned moon landing (Document 5).
- Several analyses of Soviet Luna missions, including Luna 9 — the first mission to result in a soft landing on the moon (Document 6, Document 7, Document 8, Document 10, Document 16).
Source: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 479
Read more about the program and access declassified documents