The Man Who Once Wanted to Militarize the Moon

By Norman Chan

This was before the international Outer Space Treaty was signed, of course.

Wired Science has a great story about a speech given to the Washington Aero Club in 1958, by Air Force Brigadier General Homer A. Boushey. Boushey was a World War II fighter pilot who not only commanded the United States' first jet fighter group, but was also the first person to pilot a rocket-propelled aircraft--a real rocketeer. But his speech concerned more than fighter jets; it was an argument listing the numerous advantages of a US-controlled military base on the Moon. From Wired's reading of the speech:

If the U.S. gained control of the moon, then the Soviets would be unable to attack the United States without suffering “sure and massive destruction.” They could either attack the U.S. first and endure a counter-strike from the moon about 48 hours later, or they could launch missiles at the moon first. The U.S. military lunar base would, of course, immediately detect the light and heat of the Soviet missiles’ rocket exhaust and retaliate.
Photo Credit: NASA

The audacious speech was made more than a decade before the first Moon landing, and nine years before the U.S. and Soviet Union signed a treaty to ban using the Moon or any other celestial bodies for military purposes. And that's not even considering the cost of such an idea. The Apollo program alone eventually cost a cumulative $20 billion (in 1970s dollars), and that was just to get to the Moon. But Boushey's assumption that the program might be able to save money by building bases on the moon using lunar materials actually seems less far-fetched today--we recently reported on a USC proposal for using CNC robots to build lunar settlements.

And as sensational as excerpts from this speech may be, Boushey's legacy is actually very respectable--he spent the rest of his career fighting in favor of nuclear arms control, trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons right here on Earth.