One way to do this was to set off the bomb underground, which they tried one evening, with spectacular "roman candle" like results.
When the device was exploded, it blew the top off the well. The project leader remembers that,Link
“We did have a lid on that hole. Nobody's seen it since. We never did find that. There was (also) kind of plug in the hole. . . All it was, was a concrete cylinder with a hole through the center of it, so the detector could look through it. It was suspended from the harness that was holding the bomb. It was a collimator, and we never found that collimator either, and it was about five feet thick.”
In 1959 October 1957 [see note below], a team of Soviet scientists launched what they claimed to be the first man made object into outer space, the satellite Sputnik. But based on what Dr. Greenlee told me, I think Sputnik was the second object, beat by a full two years by an American made, half-ton, steel well cap, launched into orbit by a plutonium push.
Later this week , I’ll provide reasons why I think this could really be true.
Reader comment: Lakelady says: "Sputnik was launched October 4, 1957 - Not 1959."
Reader comment: Bill Leslie says: "There are a couple of great reference sites that address the 'atomic manhole cover launch.'
"One of the quotes in the article really sums it up:"
But the assumption that it might have escaped from Earth is implausible (Dr. Brownlee's discretion in making a priority claim is well advised). Leaving aside whether such an extremely hypersonic unaerodynamic object could even survive passage through the lower atmosphere, it appears impossible for it to retain much of its initial velocity while passing through the atmosphere. A ground launched hypersonic projectile has the same problem with maintaining its velocity that an incoming meteor has. According to the American Meteor Society Fireball and Meteor FAQ meteors weighing less than 8 tonnes retain none of their cosmic velocity when passing through the atmosphere, they simply end up as a falling rock. Only objects weighing many times this mass retain a significant fraction of their velocity.