US Air Force proposal: pause the Earth's rotation so nukes would miss targets

In 1960, the US Air Force asked the RAND Corporation to evaluate the possibility of using stationary rockets to pause the Earth's rotation in the event of a nuclear attack. Called "Project Retro," the idea was that the "a huge rectangular array of one thousand first-stage Atlas engines... (would) be fastened securely to the earth in a horizontal position." As missiles approached, the rockets would fire, stopping the Earth's rotation just enough for the nukes to overshoot their targets. In the book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg, who assessed the problematic proposal, wrote that everything “that wasn’t nailed down, and most of what was as well, would be gone with the wind, which would itself be flying at super-hurricane force everywhere at once." Not only that, he says, but the plan would actually require one million billion rockets:

If you do the maths, that’s about 2.6 x 1021 kilograms of propellant – or to put it another way, that’s about 500 times the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere.

So even assuming you could build that many engines, once you fired them for the time that was needed to change the Earth’s rotation, you would have put 500 times as much gas into the atmosphere, and this would all be incredibly hot combustion products.

So even if your targets were to survive the nuclear war, everyone would then be incinerated by all the exhaust gases spreading around the planet.

"That Time the U.s. Air Force Proposed Using Rockets to Stop the Earth’s Rotation" (Daily Grail)

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg (Amazon)

For even more on Project Retro and RAND, listen to my old friend Ken Hollings's excellent 2008 BBC radio documentary "RAND: All Your Tomorrows Today"

(image: detail of "Wernher von Braun with the F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the U.S. Read the rest

Nukemap: interactive map of potential nuclear bombing fatalities

In these troubled times, Alex Wellerstein's interactive Nukemap allows users to survey the damage of various kinds of nuclear bombs aimed at major cities worldwide. In this example, a typical Chinese nuke hitting downtown Los Angeles would kill 1.3 million and injure another 3 million. Read the rest

Nuclear explosion porn: watch newly declassified 1950s-1960s nuke test films

Weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and his colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have just uploaded dozens of declassified videos to YouTube of nuclear tests from the 1950s and 1960s. From LLNL:

The U.S. conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, with multiple cameras capturing each event at around 2,400 frames per second. But in the decades since, around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scattered across the country in high-security vaults. Not only were they gathering dust, the film material itself was slowly decomposing, bringing the data they contained to the brink of being lost forever....

For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify these decomposing films. The goals are to preserve the films' content before it's lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective. To date, the team has located around 6,500 of the estimated 10,000 films created during atmospheric testing. Around 4,200 films have been scanned, 400 to 500 have been reanalyzed and around 750 have been declassified.

LLNL Atmospheric Nuclear Tests

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