Bob Yamamoto, meanwhile, stayed away from military projects for 15 years after the Star Wars fiasco. He went to work for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, TRW's partner in the free-electron laser, building magnets for high-energy physics experiments. The lab was close to Berkeley, California, where he had grown up and gone to college, so the shift gave him the chance to keep racing and rebuilding import cars-Toyotas and Datsuns-with his old buddies. In the garage and at the lab, Yamamoto developed a reputation for making things that could be run hard. Because of this and his previous laser experience, he was tapped in 2003 to run Livermore's $50-million Pentagon-funded solid-state laser project. The technology, once deemed so unfeasible, was being resurrected with more measured progress expectations. Yamamoto felt as comfortable with solid-state technology as he did with free-electron lasers, and it proved an intriguing reentry into the field. "Directed-energy weapons, they've been promised for more than 30 years," he says. "I want to be the first on the block to say, "We took care of it.' "