Beam Weapons describes the technological roots of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" quest for a strategic defense system to intercept and destroy nuclear ballistic missiles before they could reach their targets. The goal was to develop radically new beam weapons able to destroy nuclear missiles with beams of laser light or charged particles.
The daring program was born at a time of wild technological optimism, when NASA talked of weekly space shuttle flights. Pentagon planners envisioned a fleet of orbiting laser battle stations that could blast thousands of Soviet nuclear missiles out of the sky. Critics dubbed the plan an impossible "Star Wars" fantasy. The controversy quickly grew heated.
In Beam Weapons Jeff Hecht focuses on the core technical issues. He tells how lasers and particle beams work, explains what is needed for effective missile defense, and carefully analyzes the feasibility of proposed systems. More than 30 years after Reagan announced his plan, the Cold War is history, but the technology he sought is still beyond the state of the art.
Originally published as Beam Weapons: The Next Arms Race in 1984, this new edition has a new subtitle to reflect its historical impact. A new epilogue recalls key events of the intervening decades, and describes the Pentagon's new generation of more modest laser weapons.