34. Sputnik Scare Leads to Weird Ideas
In the early Cold War years, notwithstanding the Red Scare and anticommunist hysteria, most Americans felt relatively secure at home from foreign attack. Even after the Soviets detonated their first atom bomb in 1949, few doubted America’s nuclear superiority. Nor did we doubt the superiority of the US Air Force and its bombers’ ability to nuke Russia, while keeping Russian bombers from nuking us back.
Then in 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite. That terrified America. Sputnik itself was harmless, but Soviet rockets powerful enough to launch it into space were powerful enough to launch atomic weapons at the US. America’s sense of invulnerability evaporated. To restore American confidence, many ideas were bounced back and forth, quite a few of them weird. However, few of them were as weird as the idea of nuking the Moon.