Everyone’s always trying to find new ways to kill each other. Sometimes that search crosses the boundary between “understandable” and “complete lunacy,” and these projects are what they found on the other side.
10. Project Cirrus
Man hasn’t had much luck taming nature, but each failure makes us try harder. Project Cirrus saw America’s Armed Forces collaborate with General Electric to try their luck. Researchers wanted to find out what would happen if crushed dry ice was dropped over a hurricane, so on October 13, 1947 an airplane dropped 180 pounds of the stuff onto a hurricane heading out to sea on the east coast of America.
The goal was to modify the behavior of the hurricane, and apparently they succeeded — the hurricane took an abrupt turn and slammed into Georgia, killing two and leaving over 1400 people homeless. The government was blamed and law suits were threatened, but the fact that a hurricane had taken a similar path in the past made placing blame difficult. The project was cancelled, but further research into weakening hurricanes has since taken place.
9. Weaponized FungusCrazy
Magnaporthe grisea is a fungus thats affects two of the world’s biggest crops: rice and wheat. Highly contagious, it can spread through an entire field overnight, and depending upon the conditions the yield loss can be up to 50%. The fungus exists in around 85 countries, and scientists are still trying to find a way to contain it.
America, on the other hand, wanted to weaponize the fungus. The idea was to use a cluster bomb or spray tank to infect a water supply, causing widespread crop epidemics to starve an enemy. Thankfully, in 1960 the United States remembered it wasn’t a country of James Bond villains and abandoned the project.
8. Weaponized Plague
The plague was one of the worst pandemics in human history, with nearly half of Europe perishing in the 14th century. The Soviet Union looked at that historical nightmare and thought “Hey, neat.” In 1992, a defector revealed that the Soviets had amassed biological weapons that included the plague, smallpox and anthrax. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the fate of the program and its scientists became lost to history.
7. Project Seal
New Zealand isn’t the country that springs to mind when you think of doomsday devices, but during World War II they collaborated with the United States to create one. Codenamed “Project Seal,” the countries experimented with the possibility of creating an artificial tsunami by detonating an underwater bomb. These top secret tests were conducted as a possible alternative to the Manhattan Project. In 1945, after just a year of experimentation, the United States abandoned the project. New Zealand decided to continue their research well into the ’50s, and declassified documents revealed that over the span of five years over 3500 bombs were detonated off the coast of Auckland. The tests failed — the bombs weren’t powerful enough to trigger a tsunami, the project was finally abandoned, and Aqua Man didn’t have to invade New Zealand.
6. Tectonic Weapons
The Environmental Modification Convention is an international treaty that prohibits the modification of nature for military use. But it didn’t stop the Soviet Union from supposedly playing god between 1987 and 1992, despite being a signatory. According to a Moscow newspaper, the Soviets attempted to set-off an artificial earthquake by detonating nuclear bombs underground to disturb the Earth’s tectonic plates. The Soviet Union denied the claim and there’s little evidence to suggest that the tests ever happened, but theories about how such weapons might be employed and conspiracy theories regarding their use continue to swirl.
5. Stalin’s Superhuman Army
When Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union he had big plans for his military, ranging from perfectly reasonable modernization efforts to the totally bonkers goal of raising an army of superhuman soldiers who were immune to pain and fatigue. To realize his dream, Stalin approached veterinarian and animal breeding scientist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov.
Ivanov’s plan was almost beautifully simple in its insanity — he wanted to inseminate chimpanzees with human semen to create a half-human, half ape offspring. The vet’s ape army idea was music to Stalin’s ears, and Ivanov was given his full support. Sadly for our dreams of seeing a gritty World War II reboot of MVP: Most Valuable Primate but thankfully for every other aspect of humanity, his experiments predictably failed.
4. Oil Eating Bacteria
In the 1970s, General Electric’s Ananda Chakrabarty was working on a solution to the ecological and economic disaster created by oil spills. His answer was pseudomonas putida, a new species of bacteria that cleans spills by eating the oil. It may sound ridiculous, but there are actually four species of oil eating bacteria that exist in nature. But when they’re introduced to an oil spill they compete with each other, which drastically reduces the amount of crude oil they can clean.
Ananda’s bactria is the culmination of these species — when introduced to an oil spill it eats and digests crude oil at much faster rate. Ananda and General Electric filled for a joint patent amidst concerns about the wider consequences of the innovation.
3. Starfish Prime
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a burst of energy emitted during the detonation of a nuclear weapon. The pulse can disrupt electrical grids and render electronic devices useless, and it goes beyond the destructive range of the actual explosion. In the late 1950s, an EMP let out during a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific blew out street lights in Hawaii and caused radio disturbance as far as Australia.
America was intrigued with the results and tried to use it as a defensive weapon against a possible Soviet missile strike. The theory was that an EMP in the Earth’s atmosphere would fry up the electronics in incoming Soviet missiles. So in 1962, 1500 miles away from Hawaii, a 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon was detonated in the earth’s magnetosphere in a test called Starfish Prime.
The blast lit up the sky like a sunrise, and the explosion could be seen from 900 miles away. The rays emitted from the blast created an artificial radiation belt and crippled a third of all satellites in low orbit. The results were enough to convince United States and Soviet Union to abandon high altitude nuclear detonations.
2. The Sun Gun
The Nazis were crazy, but even they left things on the drawing board. This included the heliobeam, a theoretical orbital weapon. It was proposed in 1929 by German rocket scientist and physicist Hermann Oberth, who drew up plans for a space station with a massive concave lens that would be used to concentrate the sun’s rays on a single point on the face of the Earth. The Nazis looked into Oberth’s proposal and calculated the requirements to build a weapon that could fry enemy cities or boil an ocean, although the project was never seriously considered.
1. Nuke the Moon
During the initial years of the Space Race, which featured consecutive Soviet triumphs, America’s Air Force unexpectedly jumped to the conclusion that the best way to show dominance in space was to nuke the freaking moon. Dubbed “Project A119,” the Air Force wanted to detonate a nuclear weapon on the dark side of the moon in such a way that the sun’s light would make the mushroom cloud visible from Earth. Thankfully, the project was scrapped in 1959 after concerns about the consequences, and also after everyone realized how insane the plan sounded.