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Tip of the Spear

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But back to the subject at hand. In 1962, the US conducted a staggering 105 nuclear tests, collectively titled Operation Dominic. Most were standard free-fall drops from B-52s. But there was a subset of high-altitude nuclear detonations collectively known as Operation Fishbowl.

There were eight shots, the highest of which, Starfish Prime, detonated 250 miles above the earth -- by most standards, actually in space.

Starfish wasn't just the highest of the series. It was also the fifth in the series and only the second to work. Indeed, one of the eeriest things about the series is how badly it went.

Four of the first five tests failed, in one case with a nuke-tipped missile having to be detonated on the launch pad, throwing plutonium and other radioactive containments all over the place and completely destroying the launch facility. Another had to be detonated when the rocket veered out of control -- remember, veered out of control with an armed nuclear warhead on board.

The last two high-altitude nuclear detonations -- one by the Soviet Union and one by the United States -- took place on November 1st, 1962.