Whatever happened to... Star Wars

The George Lucas blockbuster?

No, the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) launched by Ronald Reagan in 1983, dubbed `Star Wars' to fire the American public's imagination. The plan was to build an anti-ballistic space-based defence network to provide a protective shield over the American continent.

Science-fiction As The Times put it, the general reaction was "disbelief, disinterest, cynicism, laughter". The idea of filling the sky with giant mirrors reflecting back laser beams and cloud burning heat rays seemed a little... well, different. Only five out of the 18 NATO countries responded positively to the idea.

Mission Impossible

In April 1984, the American Union of Scientists declared it "technically unattainable". And a second problem emerged: it completely violated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 forbidding space-based systems. For some reason, the Soviet Union seemed unable to overlook this factor at the Reykjavik summit of 1986 when a near-agreement to massive weapons reduction was halted by the US President's adherence to the policy.

The sequel

George Bush was elected in 1988 and proved equally keen on the project. Congress had other ideas. By the autumn of 1989, it had agreed to the cut in the programme's funding.

Zapped

By May 1993, Bill Clinton had scrapped the project scrapped. Evidence had come to light that the test-run Star Wars-style mid-air collisions had been orchestrated using radio receivers. A staggering $32 billion had been spent on strategic defence research since 1983.

The comeback

"Star Wars" may be about to strike back. In February, the Republican senator Jesse Helms said he wanted the programme revived. May the farce be with you, again.

James Aufenast

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