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The Strange Saga of President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Project That Never Was

In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced his plans to create a futuristic defense system designed to ensure the western world remained free of nuclear attack by the Soviets. While the Strategic Defense Initiative was its official title, the project is far better known by its nickname: Star Wars. The idea, which finally got off the ground in 1984, was a decidedly far-reaching and alternative one. Essentially, the plan involved deploying powerful laser-based weapons into the Earth’s orbit that, in essence, would provide a collective shield that could skillfully and decisively destroy any incoming Soviet or Chinese nuclear weapons. The program was not just ambitious: it finally proved to be overly ambitious. Ultimately, the Strategic Defense Initiative program collapsed under its own weight and a lack of adequate technology to allow it to work in the fashion that Reagan had enthusiastically envisaged. Nevertheless, it wasn’t entirely abandoned: during the Clinton administration it became the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, and is today known as the Missile Defense Agency. Although the MDA is a vital component of America’s defense and security, it’s a far cry from the Star Wars-like SDI-based imagery of hundreds of laser-firing weapon-systems positioned high above the United States. But, in its very earliest years, SDI was seen as a winner by many. Certainly, Edward Teller was gung-ho for the project.

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