“A Realistic Objective.”
~An Actual Section of a 1959 Proposal To Establish A Permanent Moon Base by 1966.
The Space Race was definitely one of the coolest and silliest parts of the entire Cold War. Two Superpowers were tossing around ungodly sums of money to try to make the other nation look stupid due to not being as good at making really cool toys, but it was dealt with an honest-to-God level of severity that equated “Russia going to the moon before we do” as being probably an inevitable lead up to complete nuclear annihilation. Baby Boomers get a lot of (mostly deserved) flack for constantly complaining about how Millennials, and pretty much every younger generation, had it so much easier than they did and they take things for granted, but we’ll give them this—if we spent our entire childhoods with nuclear weapons literally pointed at our homes so often that we became this numb to the destruction of society, we’d probably feel it was within our rights to complain about how much people use smartphones now, too.
Anyway, when we talk about the existentially terrifying realities of the Cold War, the space race at least feels kind of innocent and, well, awesome. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we won (USA! USA!) but also because it was about science for the sake of invention, and not finding new, horrific ways to nuke each other into the stone age. The two most powerful economies at the time spent decades funneling obscene amounts of money into discovering more about our universe, and even when that didn’t always end up as incredible achievements in space travel such as these bad boys, it still resulted in us exploring every planet of the galaxy while accidentally coming up with some useful technology that we use to this day like laptops, dustbusters, and whatever technologies are on the second page of the article we just linked (we were too lazy to get past the first page).
That is to say, the Space Race represented American (and, ugh, occasionally Russian) ingenuity and a passion for discovery that transcended the whole, “Holy shit, we as a species survived more than five years of Lyndon B. Johnson having the ability to nuke the entire planet” scariness of that era. But the space race wasn’t all about peacefully sticking a middle finger in Communist Russia’s face by planting a flag on the moon and shouting, “FIRST!” We also had some sinister, if not very realistic, plans on using space for our military advantage. Like the time we tried to build a military base on the moon.
Project Horizon: The Time We Tried To Build A Military Base On The Moon
On March 20, 1959, Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau, the Army’s Chief of Research and Development, sent a proposal to the Chief of Ordinance to begin preliminary examinations into the development of establishing a “lunar outpost to be of critical importance to the U.S. Army of the future.” Trudeau argued that it was of critical importance to get American boots on the moon on a permanent basis—the logic being that if they can establish a presence on the lunar surface before the Soviets (who had, in propaganda, announced their intentions to have Soviet citizens on the moon by 1967, which you might remember from history as a thing that never even came that close to happening) then the Russians would be unable to go through any plans they might have to set up moon bases. The moon base race was on!
The proposal isn’t the most scientific approach to the subject. Keeping in mind that we wouldn’t end up sending a man to the moon for another 10 years, and that no one had even successfully sent a human being into space yet, it still addresses potential problems for setting up a fort on the damn moon by shrugging and offering, “Holes or caves could be covered and sealed with pressure bags. By this means temperature extremes are alleviated and vulnerability to meteorites is lessened.” This would pretty much be like one of our writers submitting a request to send a space cruise to the sun and having it say, “Make sure to have a lot of refrigerators on board—if it gets too hot, you could probably open their doors and pump in some cool air.”
Additionally, the ship should invest in some good central air conditioning. By this means temperature extremes are alleviated.
Less than two months later, on June 8th, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency had produced Project Horizon, A U.S. Army Study for the Establishment of a Lunar Military Outpost. It’s wonderful. They predicted it would cost about $6 billion to set up an operational outpost with twelve soldiers on the moon by December, 1966. We can only assume that the Army scientists behind the study had just finished work on their 1965 proposal, Aubrey Hepburn, A U.S. Army Study to Get Her to be My Girlfriend When She Finds Out That We Have Like Way More in Common Than She Does With That Jerk British Husband of Hers.
Right in the beginning, it asserts that this is a “realistic objective” in a section that has a fucking typo. “As recently as 1959 1949, the first penetration of space was accomplished by the US” the segment begins, partly to establish by how quickly the technology in space travel was growing, and absolutely to use the word “penetration” in an official Army document. The logic is as follows—We sent a rocket 250 miles into the sky in 1949. Just 8 years later, the Soviets placed a satellite in orbit. And in 1961, two years from the writing of the project proposal, we were probably gonna get a man into space. At this rate, the proposal asserted, the USA and USSR will both will be performing lunar landings by 1964, and we could get a man to the moon by 1965, easily.
And if we can get a man on the moon by 1965 (in this comically overly optimistic scenario) then it shouldn’t take more than another year and change to send hundreds of tons of materials up there, construct a fully self-sustainable moon base, and have it permanently manned by the United States Army. To clarify, this is a proposal created by the United States government, and not, as you might initially suspect, a plot device for a 1970’s James Bond movie. Don’t worry, we made the same assumption at first as well.
Pictured: Proposed Project Horizon Defense Forces
It was decided that we would take 147 Saturn rockets, which were in the process of being developed, and send them into low Earth orbit, where we could assemble spacecraft components to get materials to the moon. Spent fuel containers could hopefully be used as storage units, meaning that this perilous moon base would probably smell like gasoline at all times (before you comment, we know that gasoline is different from rocket fuel, but we like the mental image of a station reeking of gasoline, and we don’t care about your fancy science). Now, if you’re thinking to yourself that 147 Saturn rockets seems like an arbitrary number, especially considering it was about a rocket that didn’t exist yet…you’d be right. It was totally arbitrary.
The plan would have 40 Saturn launches in 1964, with cargo delivery to the moon beginning in January 1965. By April of 1965, two men would land on the moon, thus beginning the construction phases. By November 1966, 12 men would be on the base, and it would be fully operational by December, 1966. The base itself would be underground, and it would be heated and powered through a range of methods ranging from nuclear reactors to “fuck if I know, that’s for future U.S. government to figure out.”
Oh, and we should mention, the space suits they wanted to make had fucking skates.
This is our favorite thing. First of all, there’s just…a lot going on here, but the skates stand out. Where are they skating? What are they gonna use the skates for? Did they think the moon was made of ice? It was 1959, so it’s entirely possible that they absolutely thought that an ice moon was a realistic possibility.
Of course, this was going to be an Army base at the end of the day, but it’s not like we’ve really studied how bullets work in space that extensively (or have we?). The suggested solution? In case of an overland attack (overland!) the moon base would be defended by Claymore mines that were modified to puncture pressure suits, or, and this is the best, Davy Crocket rockets. That’s right nuke bazookas on the moon! That is literally the worst idea. “We are stranded on the moon with a moon base, but if the Russians launch a moon assault (!) then we’ll take them out…with a nuclear bomb in a limited atmosphere.” To iterate—there was, on paper, a classified plan to build a underground moon base under the Soviet’s noses, and stock it with portable nukes to defend against any potential attack. So yes, the Space Race was really the best and craziest part of American history, and we love it so dearly.
The report never progressed passed the “feasibility stage,” meaning that the Army has a very loose definition of the term “feasible” and also that no concretely funded steps were ever taken to make this moon base a reality. Instead, we focused our efforts on just getting regular, boring old non-armed-non-skates-wearing astronauts getting to the moon just to have a look around, and missed out on our chance to have a secure underground moon base. Instead, we’ll just have to settle for getting drunk and re-watching The Martian a few times. Perchance to dream…
Easily our favorite Mars-based comedy