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Item 2157 - Carl Sagan Project A119 Archive Catalog 445 (Jan 2015)

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Minimum Bid: $500.00
Sold Price: $3,250.00 (includes buyer's premium)


Remarkable and historically important archive comprised of Sagan’s personnel file from the time of his employment at the Armour Research Foundation at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1958–59, during which time he worked on Project A119—a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon. The file includes his original job application, several documents concerning security clearances, various payroll cards and documents, and other general human resources documents.

The earliest piece is Sagan's application for employment, filled out entirely in his own hand and signed at the conclusion, four pages on adjoining sheets, 8.5 x 11, August 4, 1958. Sagan provides his personal information, a lengthy description of his educational and employment history, and a list of references. He lists his undergraduate education at "U. Chicago, Chicago, Ill.," where he earned honors including "General Honors in the College; Special Honors in Natural Sciences; Honor Entrance Scholarship; various U. C. Scholarships," also noting that he was "President, Astronautical Society, U. C." He was still at the University of Chicago as a doctoral student at the time this was submitted. He continues to mention his published papers and lectures given, which include "'Radiation & the Origin of the Gene,'" "'Is there Life on Other Planets?,'" and "'The Problem of Life on Mars.’" His employment history lists several positions while studying at the university, with responsibilities such as "Research problem on star formation" and "Organized and moderated public lecture series on 'Creation of Life & the Universe.’" The references he provides are especially impressive, and include Nobel Prize–winning scientists H. J. Muller and Joshua Lederberg.

According to an internal typed personnel record present, Sagan was hired as a part-time temporary assistant physicist at a rate of $3 per hour and began on September 3, 1958. Six documents signed by Sagan are from the previous day, September 2, including: an insurance document naming his wife, Lynn Sagan, as his beneficiary; a withholding exemption certificate; a nondisclosure agreement; a document certifying his American citizenship; and an ‘espionage certificate’ acknowledging the conduct required by the Espionage Act, attached to a security clearance questionnaire filled out at length and signed by Sagan.

Also present are four documents signed by Sagan from 1959, including: an Office of Naval Intelligence fingerprint card, bearing original ink fingerprints of each individual finger as well as all ten simultaneously; a personnel security questionnaire, again filled out at length and signed by Sagan; and a security termination statement from the end of his employment in the summer of 1959, with an attached temporary identification card signed on the reverse. An insurance-related card is also included, signed by Sagan in print. Accompanied by several other personnel documents, not signed by Sagan. Several of these documents are signed by Dr. Leonard Reiffel, who oversaw Project A119. In overall fine condition, with expected document wear.

The existence of Project A119 was essentially unknown until the mid-1990s, when Sagan biographer Keay Davidson stumbled across details related to the program in his 1959 scholarship application to UC Berkeley's Miller Institute—this leak included the titles of two classified papers that Sagan worked on during the project, 'Possible Contribution of Lunar Nuclear Weapons Detonations to the Solution of Some Problems in Planetary Astronomy' (1958), and 'Radiological Contamination of the Moon by Nuclear Weapons Detonations' (1959). After these revelations came to light in the 1999 book Carl Sagan: A Life, Leonard Reiffel broke his anonymity and revealed further details about the studies, which he said were conceived in an attempt to intimidate the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War's 'Space Race.' If placed correctly, the mushroom cloud resulting from a nuclear detonation on the dark side of the moon would be illuminated by the sun. Reiffel's team produced eight reports on the subject during the 1958–59 period, all of which are said to have been destroyed in 1987. An absolutely unique archive related to this top secret, extraordinary work by one of the most influential scientists in recent memory.

Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.


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