The U.S. and Russia have both detonated nuclear weapons at high altitudes and in space before. During these tests, they realized that the explosions produced an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that was capable of both destroying satellites and disrupting electronic communications on Earth. In 1962, the Starfish Prime test set off about 100 burglar alarms on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and shut down a telephone system in Kauai. Larger detonations could theoretically disable an entire country's electric grid.
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Key Facts In This Video
A nuclear blast that occurs in space can set off a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. 00:16
In 1958, the USSR called for a ban on high-altitude nuclear testing, but the ban was overturned in 1961. 02:10
When the Starfish Prime hydrogen bomb was detonated at high altitude, it set off burglar alarms in Hawaii, which was more than 620 miles (1,000 km) away. 02:36