"He Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth" (1958)

The Farside hemisphere of the Moon with Earth in the background: an image captured on 16 July 2015 by NASA's telescopic EPIC camera on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's DSCOVR spacecraft at the Sun-Earth L1 point. Image credit: NASA/NOAA.
On 28 January 1958, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Homer A. Boushey, Deputy Director of U. S. Air Force Research and Development, spoke before the Aero Club of Washington. The weekly news magazine U.S. News & World Report took note and published excerpts from his speech.

Boushey warned the Aero Club of dire consequences should the Soviet Union seize control of the Moon. He presented his speech four months after Soviet engineers had launched 83.6-kilogram Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, three months after they had launched the dog Laika on board 508.3-kilogram Sputnik 2, and three weeks after the failure of Vanguard TV-3, the first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite.

When Boushey is described in any detail, he is often portrayed as a strangelovian Cold Warrior. He is, however, better seen as an early U.S. rocketry and spaceflight proponent. He had enrolled in Stanford University to study engineering in 1929, but the Wall Street Crash of that year and consequent Great Depression intervened, so in 1932 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. During training at Randolph Field, Texas, he encountered a copy of U.S. rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard's seminal 1919 monograph A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.
Pioneering U.S. rocketeer Homer A. Boushey. 
Image credit: U.S. Air Force.

Goddard had launched the world's first liquid-propellant rocket, named "Nell," on 16 March 1926, in Auburn, Massachusetts. The rocket flew 184 feet, or roughly half the length of a Saturn V Moon rocket. He received funding support for his rocket experiments from the Smithsonian Institution, which published his monograph, and from the wealthy Guggenheim family. The latter's support enabled Goddard to move his experiments to the wide-open spaces of New Mexico in 1930.

Boushey completed his aeronautical engineering degree at Stanford in 1936, and joined the Aircraft Laboratory at Wright Field in Ohio. While there, he corresponded with and visited Goddard. The two men became fast friends; Goddard would become the godparent of one of Boushey's daughters.

In August 1941, Boushey served as the test-pilot for a series of U.S. government-funded rocket-assisted take-off experiments. These employed solid-propellant rocket motors to boost a single-seater Ercoupe airplane off a runway. Theodore Von Kármán of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at California Institute of Technology led the rocket development effort. The plane's single propeller was removed for the final test on 23 August; Boushey then took off under rocket thrust alone, making him the first American to pilot an exclusively rocket-powered aircraft.

During the Second World War, Boushey commanded the first U.S. jet-powered fighter group. In the days after the Japanese capitulation, he flew over Hiroshima, allowing him to observe firsthand the devastation nuclear weapons could cause.

The first U.S. rocket plane: Army Air Corps pilot Homer Boushey takes to the air in one of a series of rocket-assisted take-off flight tests. Image credit: U.S. Air Force.
In his January 1958 talk, Boushey acknowledged that there existed in the nascent U.S. space community "divided opinion as to whether or not a manned or unmanned Moon base has any military significance." He then presented arguments in favor of a military lunar base.

The Moon, he explained, is 239,000 miles away, a distance a rocket might cross in about two days. Boushey noted that the Moon is a synchronous rotator, which means that it keeps the same face turned always toward Earth. Telescopes on the moon's Earth-facing Nearside could thus monitor military activities on the revolving Earth as they passed in and out of view. Boushey estimated that objects as small as 100 feet wide might be visible. Conversely, the Farside hemisphere (image at top of post) is always turned away from Earth. Boushey believed that this would make it an ideal location for conduct of secret military operations beyond the reach of prying eyes in Russia.

Earth's Moon, Boushey declared, could also provide "a retaliation base of unequaled advantage." If the U.S. gained control of the Moon, then the Soviets would be unable to attack the United States without suffering "sure and massive destruction." They could either attack the U.S. first and endure a counter-strike from the Moon about 48 hours later, or they could launch missiles at the Moon first. The U.S. military lunar base would, of course, immediately detect the light and heat of the Soviet missiles' rocket exhaust and launch a retaliatory strike.

Boushey then spoke what are probably the most famous words in his speech: "[i]t has been said that 'he who controls the Moon controls the earth.' Our planners must carefully evaluate this statement for, if true - and I, for one, think it is - then the U.S. must control the Moon."

Seventy-five years ago: U.S. aircraft dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese port cities of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki on 6 August and 9 August 1945. To date these remain the only nuclear weapons used in anger. Homer Boushey flew over the ruins of Hiroshima and saw the devastation there for himself. Image credit: Wikipedia.
The excerpts from Boushey's speech in U.S. News & World Report contained no overt mention of the possibility that U.S. missiles might be launched from the Moon preemptively; that is, that the U.S. Moon base might be used to destroy the Soviet Union with little risk of retaliation. Boushey did, however, describe attributes of the Moon that would make a preemptive attack feasible.

The Moon's weak gravitational pull, coupled with its lack of an atmosphere, would permit missiles to be "catapulted" from their siloes, thereby avoiding use of easily detected rocket motors. Hiding the siloes on the Farside would further increase the odds that a U.S. attack would go unnoticed until warheads entered Earth's atmosphere over Soviet territory.

Building and maintaining the U.S. military lunar base would not, Boushey maintained, have to break the bank. He assumed that the Moon would be found to be made of the same elements as the Earth, so that the "possibilities of construction and creation of an artificial environment [would be] virtually unlimited." Electricity from solar panels made on the Moon could be stored using massive lunar-made flywheels which, once spun up by lunar-made electric motors, could spin for weeks in the absence of atmospheric friction. By using the flywheels to turn the electric motors, the latter could become generators for supplying the base with electricity during the two-week lunar night.

Boushey ended his speech by offering an alternative to lunar militarization. He pointed out that on "January 16 [1958] Secretary [of State John Foster] Dulles proposed the formation of an international commission to insure [sic] the use of outer space exclusively for peaceful purposes, and if the Soviet premier is sincere in decrying the production of ever-more-powerful weapons he will jump at the chance. In 10 years," he added, "the opportunity of jointly imposing control may have been lost."

U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk signs The Outer Space Treaty at the White House as President Lyndon Baines Johnson (right), British Ambassador to the United States Sir Patrick Dean (center), and Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin (left) look on. Image Credit: United Nations.
Almost exactly nine years after Boushey delivered his speech, on 27 January 1967, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. The following October, they called upon other nations of the world to sign and ratify what had by then become known as The Outer Space Treaty. Among other far-reaching provisions, it required that the Moon not be put to any military purpose. The Outer Space Treaty, which took effect on 10 October 1967, became the rock upon which the body of international space law is built.

By the time The Outer Space Treaty took effect, Boushey had been retired from the Air Force for a little more than six years. He ended his career at age 52 in July 1961 as Commander of the Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. By that time, President Dwight Eisenhower had passed over the military in favor of civilian U.S. space exploration under the aegis of NASA. Despite military support for NASA programs and some brave starts, such as the Dyna-Soar spaceplane and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, U.S. military spaceflight would be limited mainly to automated surveillance satellites until the Space Shuttle era.

Soon after his retirement, Boushey became an outspoken critic of the escalating war in Indochina. Despite this, President Richard Nixon recognized his key role in U.S. astronautics by inviting him to the 13 August 1969 "Astronauts' Dinner" held in Los Angeles to celebrate the July 1969 triumph of Apollo 11, the first piloted Moon landing.

In 1982, while the Administration of President Ronald Reagan called for expansion and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Boushey co-sponsored California's Nuclear Freeze ballot initiative, which passed overwhelmingly. In 1985, he joined other retired U.S. military officers in Moscow to draft an agenda for nuclear arms control. He cited his 1945 flight over Hiroshima when he declared that political leaders did not adequately grasp the destructive power of nuclear weapons. The man who had spoken out for a U.S. military Moon base in 1958 spoke out against nuclear weapons to the end of his days. Boushey died in 2000 on Christmas Day at the age of 91.


"Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth," Homer A. Boushey, U.S. News & World Report, 7 February 1958, p. 54.

"Gen. Homer Boushey dies; he was a pioneer in rocket-powered aircraft," The Almanac, 3 January 2000 (http://www.almanacnews.com/morgue/2001/2001_01_03.boushey.html — accessed 2/1/20).

"Homer A. Boushey," Keay Davidson, SFGate.com, 6 January 2000 (http://articles.sfgate.com/2001-01-06/news/17580737_1_air-force-lunar-base-rocket — accessed 2/1/20).

More Information

Space Race: The Notorious 1962 Proposal to Launch an Astronaut on a One-Way Trip to the Moon

"A Vision of the Future": Military Uses of the Moon and Asteroids (1983)

NASA's 1992 Plan to Land Soyuz Lifeboats in Australia


  1. Hi David,

    I enjoy your work very much and your blog is a favorite of mine.

    A quick correction, if I may? I believe that Fritz Von Opel and not Homer Boushey was the first person to pilot a rocket-powered aircraft; Von Opel flew in 1929. Homer Boushey was probably the first American to do so.

  2. Capt Steve:

    You are 100% correct, and what's more, I garbled Goddard's connection to the test. Thanks for pointing that out. I'll fix it up immediately.


    1. The only reason I knew that was because way back when, about 45 years ago, I was given a paperback version of Oberth's "Rockets, Missiles and Men In Space" and was fascinated by the prewar history of rocketry. We space nerds start young!

  3. Addendum to my last comment: secondary-source accounts of the rocket-assisted take-off test series differ. It is, unfortunately, not possible for me to go back to original documents, so I've done my best to repeat only details that occur in multiple sources. It's unclear to me what Goddard's connection to the test series was; I suspect garbled accounts due to the fact that Goddard had received U.S. government support in 1916. I'll keep my eyes open for additional information. What's quite clear is that you are correct: Opel beat Boushey by more than a decade.



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