America Wanted To Stop The Earth's Rotation To Trick Soviet Nukes

America Wanted To Stop The Earth's Rotation To Trick Soviet Nukes

How far would you go to save the ones you love? Would you run into a burning building? Jump in front of a moving car? Slowly meander to the cliff's edge and ask if they need a hand? Or would you, like Superman, go so far as to reverse the earth's rotation to undo this tragic mistake, so sure that nothing can stand in the way of your great power -- not even science?

Because that's exactly how far the U.S. government was willing to go to save its citizens. Well, nothing as silly as time travel. All they wanted was the ability to freeze the earth's rotation with massive rockets. During the '60s, that wild and crazy time when everything felt possible, the U.S. Air Force started floating the idea of strapping "a huge rectangular array of one thousand first-stage Atlas engines" to counteract Mother Earth's spin cycle. This "Project Retro" (because it's the kind of sci-fi nonsense that'd only fly in an old Jules Verne novel) would stop the earth's rotation just long enough that the inevitable barrage of Soviet nukes would overshoot their mark like so many rocket-strapped Wiley E. Coyotes falling into a canyon.

Wikimedia Commons
Just picture these behemoths stuck into the earth like a ballistic Pooh bear. 

After being looked over by several government departments, Project Retro was eventually farmed out the calculations to the Rand Corporation, who'll do anything for a paycheck. But they calculated that, in theory, it'd require too many rockets and, in practice, it was an insane idea by insane people. Lead strategist Daniel Elsberg, recalling his odd job in The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, figured out that this task would need propellant "500 times the mass of the Earth's atmosphere." That alone would require not one thousand Atlas rockets but "one million billion" of them, and the American military just didn't have the budget for that. Yet.

Also, we would all die. According to Elsberg, the effect of pressing a god-like finger onto our spinning globe would cause a "super-hurricane force everywhere at once." At the same time, every single coastline "would be wiped out by giant tsunamis." Not that we'd mind a little spritz since "everyone would then be incinerated by all the exhaust gases spreading around the planet." And while the American military has always been the kind of gung-ho patriots who'd blow up the world before surrendering a single paperclip to the commies, the fact that their safety measure would've killed more people than a megaton bomb dropped on every major city kind of defeats the point.

For more weird tangents and stories of almost-apocalypses, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures /Tourbillon, Wikimedia Commons

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