Fact Check

NASA Lithium Chemtrails Conspiracy

Conspiracy web sites discovered an old recorded phone call between a NASA scientist and a conspiracy theorist, and concluded the agency was dosing Americans with lithium.

Published Apr 21, 2016

Updated Apr 19, 2018
NASA admitted to dosing Americans with airborne lithium.

On 19 April 2016, the web site AnonHQ published an article that purported to show "proof" NASA admitted to spraying lithium into the atmosphere:

There’s the official explanation for why NASA is spraying lithium, a pharmaceutical drug most often used to treat people with manic depression or bi-polar disorder, into our ionosphere, and then there is the probable reason(s). It would be easier to accept NASA’s official explanation if they were not so secretive about everything they study and do in space – but one thing is for certain – NASA’s own personnel have admitted that lithium, along with other chemicals, are intentionally being placed into our environment regularly. It is possible that many of NASA’s own employees aren’t even aware of the true motivations for carrying out such a project, ironically displaying the very behaviors that these chemicals/pharmaceuticals are meant to instill.

In the first bomb-shell video a NASA employee ([redacted]@nasa.gov) admits that lithium is being sprayed in the atmosphere, and says that it is “harmless to the environment.”

The article then launched into assigning of purported motives for dosing Americans with lithium, a potent anti-manic psychiatric medication. From there, the article made its case for the existence of a NASA lithium spraying program (without any citations, and bearing a strong similarity to a previous hoax):

It is very real, and there is ample scientific documentation to corroborate what I put forth here:

A Pub Med abstract titled, Feasibility of Aerosol Vaccinations in Humans discusses how an increase in antigen volumes can be beneficial in aerosol delivery of vaccines, and could be used in “developing countries and disaster areas.” The abstract also admits that several thousand human subjects have already been aerosol vaccinated with live attenuated measles and influenza A vaccines. The executive summary further states that aerosol vaccinations are ideal for “large populations.” This has apparently been happening since as early as 2003.

Another discussion of aerosolized vaccinations can be found in The New England Journal of Medicine. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Aerosolized Vaccines Against Measles states that these vaccines were tested on children in India that were as young 9 months old.

The World Health Organization has been researching aerosol vaccines for years now, as have “philanthropic” agencies which have clear aims to sterilize the population. It is also worth noting that the pharmaceutical industry has been absolved from any legal responsibility for medicating the masses since they were awarded legal protection from all lawsuits by Congress in 1986. This law was challenged, but upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011. Many powerful agencies are making sure that we “take our medicine.”

In fact, many nations are participating in our unwitting, forced vaccination, and the dumping of any number of attenuated viruses, chemical concoctions and other ‘chemtrails’ on our heads with dogged frequency.

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) considered giving a license application to PaxVax Australia (PaxVax) for the intentional release of a GMO vaccine consisting of live bacteria into the environment in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria. They planned to release cholera on their people.

According to the regulator, this GMO vaccine qualified as a limited and controlled release under section 50A of the Gene Technology Act 2000.

Of course, we can’t ignore the USA. Michael Greenwood wrote an article stating that:

“The incidence of human West Nile virus cases can be significantly reduced through large–scale aerial spraying that targets adult mosquitoes, according to research by the Yale School of Public Health and the California Department of Public Health.”

Buried among the tinfoil were a few actual facts: that 2003 study does exist, but it studied aerosolized vaccines — i.e. ones that are inhaled as opposed to injected — and had nothing to do with dropping chemicals from planes. Another unrelated piece of "proof" offered up by the author was the widespread and well-documented efforts to combat the spread of West Nile virus by spraying insecticide, initiatives that targeted mosquitos, not humans. The excerpt also referenced "GMO vaccines," a term we were unable to even define (a 1998 paper speculated on the promise of "genetically engineered vaccines").

Also included was a video titled "NASA admits chemtrails," published to YouTube on 13 July 2013 (and purportedly recorded three days earlier):

The clip (which had no video component, only audio) was purported to be a recorded phone call between a woman identified only as "Sue" and NASA astrophysicist Douglas Rowland.

"Sue" brought up a video she watched in which lithium was mentioned, and the exchange that followed illustrated how the caller and the NASA scientist were carrying on entirely separate conversations. Sue fixated on the use of the word "lithium" as Rowland tried to explain NASA's study of the upper atmosphere, and why conditions there differed from those at lower altitudes:

Sue: When the article came out in the major newspapers including The Huffington Post there was no mention of lithium, not one. Not one mention of lithium until I heard the recording of the actual ... I ... listened to the rockets go off. I had no idea there was going to be a lithium dispersed until I heard ‘Payload ... lithium ... dispersed.’"

Rowland: Right, there was lithium dispersed and I’d be happy to talk about it. I think you may be under so misconceptions about what we’re doing, but I’m happy to tell you any details that you need.

Sue: It says in your article that you’re doing it for communications.

Rowland: There are many reasons we’re doing it because we don’t understand how the wind in the upper atmosphere moves. Chemtrails ... there are different kinds of chemtrails. Different trails at night. We use different trails during the day. The wind blows them around. They glow either on their own or from scattered sunlight. We take pictures and we can see how the wind trail moves around. It’s just like if you were taking a picture of an airplane contrail. You could use that to see how the wind was blowing. This is much higher altitude so we use these chemical trails.

Sue: What is the purpose of knowing what the wind’s going to do in the ionosphere?

Rowland: The purpose is really to understand our planet. It’s very fundamental science. Every day we know there is electrical current that flow over the head that is naturally there. They have been there ever since the Earth had an atmosphere and electrical field. And the wind is driven by the sun. The sun heats the atmosphere, the wind blows and every day that wind drives an electric current and we’re trying to understand what causes that. Simply how does it work in detail, and also importantly when the sun becomes active with lots of sun spots and lots of magnetic activity that changes the wind pattern and changes the electric current. We want to understand both what it is on a regular day when there is no solar activity and then what it is when there is a lot of solar activity.

Sue: Is there some other way you can do it without dispersing the lithium?

Rowland: We’re researching other ways. The lithium is actually harmless to the environment and we can show you more about that but it is tricky to use because it’s very faint. You can’t see it with your naked eye. You have to have special cameras to see it so we don’t like to use it for that reason. It’s hard measurement to make. We’re researching other ways to put censors directly on the rocket to measure the wind and those are ongoing. We’re trying to develop them now and one of the purposes of this mission was to do that.

Between incorrectly framed data about unrelated studies of mass vaccination or West Nile virus spraying and the video, AnonHQ concluded that "hopefully we’ve established that this IS happening," when neither the article nor video had established any such thing. What actually transpired was folks (one of whom harassed a NASA scientist and encouraged others to do the same) misinterpreted publicized scientific research to fit a pre-existing conspiracy theory. In the conversation between Rowland and Sue (during which portions were clearly elided) the only admissions made were those about the detail of upper atmosphere study, already publicly disclosed on a regular basis by NASA and linked in this article.

The use of lithium in such research was neither a secret nor cause for concern. NASA published an article in January 2013 explaining its purpose, one of many highlighting projects of the nature Rowland discussed:

NASA successfully launched a Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital rocket at 5:50 p.m. EST this evening from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

During the flight, two red-colored lithium vapor trails were produced. Reports from those viewing the launch or vapor trails came from as far away as the Outer Banks, N.C.; eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Two different methods for creating the lithium vapor were tested to determine which configuration is best for observing various science phenomena in space.

NASA has two missions later this year that will use lithium trails to assist scientists in observing events in space ... In the technology test launch, two canisters in the rocket's payload section contained solid metal lithium rods or chips embedded in a thermite cake. The thermite was ignited and produced heat to vaporize the lithium. The vapor was released in space to be detected and tracked optically.

The lithium combustion process posed no threat to the public during the release in space. When heated, the lithium rods change to lithium vapor and small amounts of lithium oxide. The thermite reaction produces iron and aluminum oxide.

NASA similarly reported the same sort of research in July 2011, in an openly-available article about the observation of lithium trails in the upper atmosphere:

The rockets -- known as sounding rockets from the nautical term "to sound," meaning to measure -- will launch sometime between July 5 and 23 depending on ionospheric and weather conditions. NASA's sounding rocket program at Wallops dates back to the agency's inception in 1958. Not only do sounding rockets offer a low cost way to access space, they also provide access to areas of the atmosphere too low for satellites.

In this experiment, the scientists will fly two pair of rockets. One in each pair will measure data about the charged or "ionized" gas -- called plasma -- as well as the neutral gas, through which it travels. The other will shoot out a long trail of lithium gas to track the wind movement. The instrumented rockets are 40 feet long and 17 inches in diameter, carrying a payload of 600 lbs. The lithium rockets are 14 inches in diameter and are about six feet long.

Beginning July 5, the team will set up each day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT, ready to launch as soon as there's evidence of currents in the ionosphere as well as a crystal clear skies – necessary for successful observation of the lithium trail.

With all the focus conspiracy sites placed on NASA, none appeared to discover the agency's explanation of purpose for lithium in rocket launches (published in 1958 and available freely on the agency's web site):

Chemical propellants in common use deliver specific impulse values ranging from about 175 up to about 300 seconds. The most energetic chemical propellants are theoretically capable of specific impulses up to about 400 seconds.

High values of specific impulse are obtained from high exhaust-gas temperature, and from exhaust gas having very low (molecular) weight. To be efficient, therefore, a propellant should have a large heat of combustion to yield high temperatures, and should produce combustion products containing simple, light molecules embodying such elements as hydrogen (the lightest), carbon, oxygen, fluorine, and the lighter metals (aluminum, beryllium, lithium) ...

Devices such as the nuclear rocket must use some chemical as a working fluid or propellant, although no energy is supplied to the rocket by any chemical reaction ... Propellants that would be suitable for use in electric propulsion devices are the easily ionized metals. The one most generally considered is cesium; next best are rubidium, potassium, sodium, and lithium.

On 21 April 2016, we spoke with both Rowland and NASA's Keith Koehler. Koehler confirmed that the tracer rockets in question operated at far higher altitudes than commercial aircraft (chemtrail conspiracies focus on lower altitudes). Koehler explained why vapor tracers were necessary to measure atmospheric conditions:

Vapor tracers used in NASA suborbital rocket missions allow scientist to see that which is not visible to the naked eye. They are used to measure atmospheric winds and/or ion drifts in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, typically between 50 and 248 miles altitude (Commercial aircraft fly around six miles altitude.). The vapor is released along a portion of the rocket trajectory. The small amount of vapor is then visible from the ground. By tracking their motions directly with cameras on the ground (or in an airplane), these tracers make it possible to observe the movements of the upper atmosphere or the ionosphere directly.

The purpose of the measurements is to understand how the natural upper atmospheric winds and/or ion drifts behave, not to change them. The releases would therefore have little value if they were changing the behavior of the upper atmosphere or ionosphere. The tracers are released in a part of the atmosphere where meteors from space deposit 100 to 200 tons of metallic material every day across the globe compared to a one-pound tracer release, for example. The meteors contain the same types of metallic material used in the tracers.

Use of lithium as a chemical propellant and research agent by NASA was not novel or secretive — the rudimentary information on NASA's web site was first published in 1958. Conspiracy theorists latched on to the use of the word "lithium" and extrapolated that it was used by NASA to surreptitiously drug the populace. NASA openly "admitted" to using lithium in a manner widely expected of that element, but use of the word "admitted" also implied disclosure by accident or under duress. The practice was well documented both by NASA and outside research, and bore no hallmarks of a long-running plot to surreptitiously drug Americans under the guise of rocket launches.


Dertzbaugh, MT.   "Genetically Engineered Vaccines: An Overview." Plasmid.   March 1998   (pages 100-113).

Greenwood, Michael.   "Aerial Spraying Effectively Reduces Incidence Of West Nile Virus In Humans." Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center.   27 June 2008.

Roth, Y.   "Feasibility Of Aerosol Vaccination In Humans." Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology.   March 2003   (pages 264-270).

Buchheim, Robert W.   "General Features of Rocket Propellants." Space Handbook: Astronautics and Its Applications.   12 November 1958   (page 42).

MedScape.   "Lithium." 21 March 2016.

NASA.   "NASA Launches Rocket From Wallops Flight Facility In Virginia." 29 January 2013.

NASA.   "Sounding Rockets Study How Winds In Space Drive Currents In The Upper Atmosphere." 6 July 2011.

Wikipedia.   "Liquid Rocket Propellant." 18 October 2004.


[Clarification 19 April 2018]: Clarified the intent of the 2003 study "Feasibility of aerosol vaccination in humans."

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.