A lunar detonation, the study said, would serve military goals by supplying information about the âdetection of nuclear device testing in space and concerning the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare.â
As for the political impact, Dr. Reiffel, who was then the manager of physics research at the Armour Research Foundation, a laboratory that was part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, wrote in the panelâs report in 1959 that âpositive effects would accrue to the nation first performing such a feat as a demonstration of advanced technological capability.â
Spoiler alert: The plan was never executed and the moon survived, intact, to host six Apollo moon landings.
Decades later, Dr. Reiffel revealed that the Air Force had been interested in staging a surprise lunar explosion, and that its goal was propaganda. âThe foremost intent was to impress the world with the prowess of the United States,â he told The New York Times in 2000. âIt was a P.R. device, without question, in the minds of the people from the Air Force.â
Dr. Reiffel, who later helped NASA identify touchdown sites on the moon for the Apollo lunar module, died on April 15 at a hospital in Chicago. He was 89. Romayne Rickhoff, Mr. Reiffelâs longtime assistant, said the cause was complications of pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Reiffel (itâs pronounced like rifle) was an inventor with dozens of patents, but the Telestrator resonated the most.
For the broadcaster John Madden, the device was transformative, greatly enhancing his ability to describe what the 22 men on the football field were doing, especially the linemen battling at the line of scrimmage during a running play. As a former coach, Mr. Madden used the Telestrator at CBS Sports, then at other networks, to let viewers in on the sort of explanations he had given to his players.
âYou needed to identify the players with illustrations, not just words,â Mr. Madden said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, recalling what he might say when he used the Telestrator to draw up a play: âWatch this guy â heâs going to go here, and this guyâs going to come up from here and collide here, and the running back is going to go between them.â
Mr. Madden could be sloppy with his Telestrations as well as fanciful, sometimes using the tool to comically point out the Gatorade buckets on the sidelines, or the Thanksgiving turkey that he was going to eat after a game.
âI wasnât trying to do art,â he said.
Dr. Reiffelâs forays into television, including one as the host of a local childrenâs science show in Chicago, had inspired the Telestrator. He had grown frustrated with the limits of narrative voice-overs to describe what was being shown onscreen, and, he told Popular Mechanics in…