I found this tidbit while reading the enjoyable Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest.
From a NY Times article a few years back:
"The foremost intent was to impress the world with the prowess of the United States," Dr. [Leonard] Reiffel said in an interview. "It was a P.R. device, without question, in the minds of the people from the Air Force."
The nuclear flash would have been widely visible from Earth, he said, and would have produced a lunar crater and dust cloud that, because of the moon's lack of atmosphere, would have flown out in all directions rather than in the usual mushroom shape.
Dr. Reiffel said the Air Force plan was seen as a way to bolster national confidence after the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in October 1957.We can agree this was a really bad idea from an environmental perspective. As well, at the time, while many Cold War hawks were stoking fears of the moon as the "high ground" in a future war, where one nation could use the body as a death-star type weapons platform, cooler heads like President Eisenhower wanted space to be a place for peaceful exploration, scientific research and of course a few spy satellites.
One has to wonder just what kind of impact (pun intended) would have been made by a nuclear blast on earth's nearest neighbor. On the PR stunt risk-o-meter this would rank at the top, but the shock waves would certainly have affected international relations, military affairs and the popular culture in ways one can only imagine.
Thanks for reading.