Son of ‘Star Wars’
On March 23, 1983, in the waning years of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation and proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative—an ambitious anti-ICBM program he hoped would render “nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” SDI would use a network of ground- and space-based battle stations armed with lasers that could zap Soviet missiles out of the sky. Detractors nicknamed the high-tech proposal “Star Wars”; The New York Times derided it as “a projection of fantasy into policy.” The project received funding in 1984 but proved to be technologically unachievable; seven years and $30 billion later, President George H.W. Bush began phasing it out. Yet the spirit of Star Wars lives on. The Missile Defense Agency announced in February that it had tested a laser-armed aerial drone, which it hopes could eventually fly high above enemy ICBM launch sites for weeks on end and zap missiles as they lifted off. “This could revolutionize missile defense,” says agency spokesman Christopher Johnson.