In 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced a new plan for protecting against a nuclear strike: the Strategic Defense Initiative. Reagan's idea almost immediately earned the unwelcome nickname "Star Wars." How much do you know about the program?
As a former Hollywood star, you might assume Reagan would appreciate having his defense initiative named after one of the most popular movies of all time. In reality, he saw the name for what it was: a jab at the seeming impracticality of shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles in space.
Reagan anticipated that SDI might force the Soviets into an unsustainable spending frenzy and force them to negotiate over nuclear arms, but his ultimate goal was to render nuclear weapons obsolete by building a worldwide defense system against them.
While all of the weapons considered for the "Star Wars" program were pretty out there (literally), giant space nets weren't ever a consideration.
With names like CHECMATE and MIRACL, you get the feeling that the people behind "Star Wars" had some fun coming up with intimidating names for the system's weaponry. SMASHR, however, wasn't one of them.
Abrahamson was a military man, with a background in aeronautical engineering, who went on to work for Oracle, NASA and others after his "Star Wars" stint.
As preposterous as the X-ray laser seemed, it got some serious funding under "Star Wars." Unfortunately, in addition to major technical hurdles hampering its development, it also violated the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
What many critics of "Star Wars" don't realize is that President Reagan knew from the outset that the program might take decades before producing an effective missile defense shield. Reagan hoped that future presidents would see the initiative's importance and carry it forward, but the end of the Cold War drastically changed the United States' defense priorities.
Because the Soviets considered "Star Wars" such a threat to the established balance of power, they agreed to talks over reducing nuclear armaments.
While President Reagan remained convinced that "Star Wars" could lead to a nuclear free world, President Bush facilitated a massive restructuring of the program to meet the emerging threats of a post-Cold War world.
While President Reagan might have argued "B" was a better answer, the idea of mutually assured destruction helped keep the peace between the United States and the Soviet Union for decades by guaranteeing that launching a nuclear attack would mean the end of your own country as well.
Although a few scientists in the early 1980s argued that the United States should pursue a large-scale ballistic missile defense system, "Star Wars" was a top-down initiative driven by Reagan's hope for a world free of nukes.
The ABM Treaty limited the number of ground-based missile defense systems which, while only one part of the "Star Wars" program, were critical to the new defense initiative's success. The United States ultimately withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002.
Like many policymakers and political pundits, the United States' allies didn't quite know how to react when Reagan announced "Star Wars." While they remained concerned that the program would lead to an escalated arms race, they also recognized its potential for creating a safer world.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union had more than twice as many ICBMs as the United States, an advantage that worried Reagan and prompted him to find a way to neutralize the Soviet Unions' threat.
While the Soviets considered "Star Wars" to be a credible threat to their national security, they knew that the system wasn't foolproof and that they had a number of options for disrupting it. Still, electromagnetic interference wasn't one of them.
Brilliant Pebbles was an ambitious but promising initiative that would have placed 4,000 satellites into space, each capable of communicating with each other and autonomously shooting down Soviet missiles while they orbited the Earth.
When developing something as complicated as ballistic missile defense system, there are bound to be mistakes. That was definitely the case during the testing of High Endoatmospheric Defense Interceptor (HEDI), which was designed to destroy Soviet missiles descending toward their targets. Unfortunately, the only thing HEDI destroyed was itself during testing at the White Sands Missile Range.
"Star Wars" was designed to be a three phase initiative, and phase one was designed to destroy at most 50 percent of the Soviet’s nuclear arsenal. As the program progressed, however, the impossibility of wiping out the Soviet Union’s entire nuclear strike became apparent.
$150 billion is a lot of money. Once the Cold War had ended, the astronomical costs of the program simply couldn’t be justified. As a result, the scale and direction of the United States’ missile defense efforts changed drastically.
Boeing is working closely with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency to develop the Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB), a plane-mounted missile defense laser. The laser successfully destroyed a boosting missile in February of 2010.