While Americans thrilled to the new adventures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader last summer, they were unaware that real-life counterparts in Washington and Moscow have been busily developing a set of weapons just as spectacular as anything George Lucas ever put on the screen.
But these real-life killer satellites and laser weapons will prove a lot deadlier than Star Wars toys if they’re ever put to use. And, considering that America’s military space program has quietly doubled in size since 1976, it is quite possible they will be.
While the public is bedazzled by Star Wars, the two superpowers are locked into a race of time and technology to place super-sophisticated anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons in orbit above the earth.
Nuclear powered satellites, armed with high energy lasers and particle beams, designed to destroy any target including those on earth with pinpoint accuracy up to 4,500 miles away, will lead to the development of ABM apace stations capable of destroying a thousand enemy missiles in a matter of minutes. The technology would make a pre-emptive first strike feasible and make technological parity between the superpowers absolutely imperative. In effect it locks the two into an arms race for outer apace which neither can afford to lose.
An additional hazard of military space satellites stems from their power sources. Since solar panels are more vulnerable than internal sources, the Pentagon has opted for nuclear fuels to power these satellites. Forty satellites now in orbit carry hundreds of pounds of deadly plutonium and uranium and higher-power satellites use complete fission reactors. These would be prime targets of any ASAT system and their destruction could result in extensive contamination on earth.
The U.S. already in well along in its preparations for space wars. More than $2 billion has been spent on the development of laser weapons; the Navy’s NAVSTAR system, designed to track the Soviet fleet, is $7 billion over budget; and, in mid March, 1981, the Air Force announced it had selected Peterson Air Force Base as the site for a proposed control center for all American military apace missions.
The lack of media coverage given to the preparations being made for nuclear space war qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
New West, April 21, 1980, “Space Wars,” by Jacques Gauchey; Mother Jones, August 1980, “No Need for Star Wars;” Inquiry, Sept. 1, 1980, “Laser-Rattling in Outer Space,” by David Ritchie; Space For All People, Newsletter for Citizens for Space Demilitarization, January, April, June, August, 1980; Santa Rosa Press Democrat, March 18, 1981, “Pentagon getting anxious to prepare for star wars,” Associated Press.