Starfish Prime – Nukes In Space – July 9, 1962

It was the height of the cold war and blowing up stuff was what we did.

This time, it was a nuke shot into space to explode in the Van Allen radiation belt.

The Van Allen belts had only been identified several years before and the mission Starfish Prime was launched, sending a hydrogen bomb into space on July 9, 1962.

From a recent NPR story

The plan was to send rockets hundreds of miles up, higher than the Earth’s atmosphere, and then detonate nuclear weapons to see: a) If a bomb’s radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might “alter” the natural shape of the belts.


The explosion resulted in a amazing display of colors in the sky that could be seen across the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii to New Zealand. Reports of electrical blackouts and strange electrical malfunctions (lights blowing out and garage doors opening and closing) were the only known side effects, except the light show in the sky.

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