How the Moon Was Turned Into a Cold War Spy Weapon

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Leave it to the US Navy to weaponize the moon.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

On July 24, 1954, a Navy engineer named James Trexler sat in a room at the Naval Research Center in Maryland talking to himself. To the outside observer, the situation would certainly look strange. But Trexler hadn’t gone mad—he’d just inaugurated electronic warfare.

To be more specific, Trexler was speaking into a microphone connected to a large antenna at the Stump Neck radio facility at the Naval base. This antenna was directed toward the moon and when Trexler spoke into microphone, his words returned to him two and a half seconds later after traveling a 500,000 mile circuit to the moon and back. Although the first radio signal had been bounced off the moon nearly 30 years earlier, Trexler was the first to send and receive a voice transmission via the moon.

The origins of this landmark experiment lie in Trexler’s college days, when he first realized that the moon’s ionosphere could serve as a reflector for radio waves. When he joined the Naval Research Center in the late 1940s, he pushed his hypothesis even further and pondered whether the moon might be used as a „radar intercept device“ capable of spying on Soviet communications. Over the next two years, Trexler focused most of his energies on proving that a moon radio intelligence program was viable.

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