The United States reportedly planned to attack the Moon with nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

According to The Sun and The Week, repeating claims made originally by an American scientist in 2000, military leaders planned the attack as a demonstration of its own power at the height of tensions with the USSR.

The project was secret, and known only as 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' or 'Project A119'.

The hope was that the Soviet Union would be terrified by the nuclear flash, which may have been viewable from the Earth.

Led by physicist Leonard Reiffel, the team involved in planning the mission is said to have included a young Carl Sagan.

It was abandoned because of fears about danger to people on Earth - and the effect on public opinion. Eventually the US decided to land a man peacefully on the Moon in the name of "all mankind" instead - which, it has to be said, seems more sensible.

The project has been known about since at least 2000, when Reiffel, who is now 85, gave an exclusive interview with the Observer.

At the time he said:

"The theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.

"I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth."

The US Air Force has declined to comment on the project, and it has not been officially confirmed.