Atomic Awesome

Starfish Prime: Apollo’s Other Nuclear Concern

The Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test explosion on July 9, 1962.

On July 9, 1962 the US set off one of the largest nuclear bombs in low earth orbit ever. Part of it was experimental, but part of it was meant to inject nuclear radiation into the Van Allen radiation belts that encompass the Earth. The US was thinking that if the radiation level in the Van Allen belts could be raised then Soviet ICBMs that travel through the Van Allen belts would be fried and not destroy us.

The nuclear explosion was huge, visible as far away as Tonga and causing a red aurora over much of the South Pacific. The lasting effects of the radiation in the Van Allen belts was also a concern for NASA several years later.
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