secretly planned to drop a radioactive bomb on New York City from
supersonic space rocket, a plot that never panned out but may have paved the way for modern space travel, the Daily Mail reported, citing historians.
According to the report, the head of the German air force during World War II,
Hermann Goering, set up a lab and a team of leading scientists to look into the possibility of mounting a radioactive attack on America's most populous city.
The team, which included Eugen Saenger, a pioneer in the aerospace field, was comissioned to invent a space plane that would be armed with a radioactive bomb. Goering believed such an attack would enable the Third Reich to avenge America's entry into the war.
Leading historians told the Daily Mail that while the plan was far-fetched, much of the research that went into the project laid the ground for modern space travel research and the space shuttle program.
Saenger completed a 900-page plan that delineated the Silverbird, a craft equipped with rocket engines that he believed would be able to clear the lower reaches of space. It was expected to reach 13,000 miles per hour, have a 100-tonne thrust motor and would reach more than 80 miles above earth.
"The plan was to wrap the bomb with radioactive sand and have it explode high above New York casting a radioactive cloud over the city,” David Myhra, aviation historian, told the Daily Mail. "It was a kind of prototype dirty bomb."
According to Myhra, standard aircraft at the time couldn't reach the US from Europe because it they couldn't carry enough fuel. By reaching sub-orbital altitude, the craft's fuel life would be extended, thus allowing it to reach – and to bomb – any place in the world.
"It was wild science fiction," Myhra said. "But Saenger had worked out all the mathematics. He was certain it would work."
Analysis conducted after the war showed that the futuristic plane would have combusted upon re-entry. Nevertheless, the concept was years ahead of its time.
"Saenger was the first to look into the technicalities of building a winged, reusable sub-orbital vehicle," said Dr. Asif Siddiqi, an assistant professor in space history at New York's Fordham University. "His work was extremely far-sighted."
Like other plots devised by the Nazis to attack the US, the plan was scrapped. Saenger fled to France and later was sent for by Josef Stalin, who was also interested in the Silverbird concept. He was never found by the Soviet Union and died in 1964.