As for whether the visions being floated within the Pentagon even have a chance at succeeding, the reality is that the Air Force has a long history of seeking exotic space weaponry, with only marginal results. In 1958 General Homer Boushey proposed stationing nuclear missiles on the moon, apparently forgetting that they would take three days to reach the Soviet Union from there. Since then, the Air Force has proposed a lunar military base, a manned military space station, several different space planes, and a variety of other technologically (and financially) ambitious programs, all aimed at taking the ultimate high ground.
Many space-based systems under development are embarrassingly over-budget and behind schedule. In July the Government Accountability Office delivered a blistering report to Congress, and the GAO's director of acquisitions and sourcing management, Robert E. Levin, testified that technologies such as space-based radar and missile-warning systems are costing more and taking much longer to develop than promised when initially approved.
Although the Air Force is not yet deploying weapons that can blow things out of the sky, it continues to experiment with such systems in its biennial Schriever war games, which began in 2001 and are named after General Bernard A. Schriever, who headed the nation's military-satellite and ballistic-missile development programs in the 1950s. Results from the Schriever games-the teams using simulated space weapons have been particularly successful-have convinced many strategists that such weapons are a must-have for future warfare.
General Schriever, who died this past June, made headlines in 1957 when he gave a keynote address calling for U.S. space superiority. He received a severe reprimand from the Eisenhower administration, which had proclaimed space to be a peaceful commons. Fifty years later, though, U.S. space policy may be headed precisely in Schriever's direction.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.