Imagine my surprise to be reminded that fifty-nine years ago today the Russians launched Sputnik into space. I was but a lad, but able to tell that the adults about me were very concerned about the scientific advancement made by the Soviets.

It was terribly small, basically the size of a youth league basketball, with four radio antennae stuck out at weird angles. It was small, but its panic factor far exceeded its size. To most people, the Russians had now attained “high ground” which was a very desirable position militarily.

People who were in charge of responding to the next threat feared that the little polished metal ball  would suddenly start targeting the earth with death rays. We had all seen death rays in movies, so they must be real, and now it looked like the Soviets had them. The little polished ball had huge propaganda benefits for the military industrial complex.

Ironically the first proposed “death rays” came from Ronald Regan and his Strategic Defense Initiative. There has been speculation that Reagan believed that Star Wars was possible based off of a movie he made in 1940 called, “Murder in The Air”. In any event, Reagan was able to convince the American public that we needed a satellite based defense system to deter the “Evil Empire”.

SDI, or Star Wars as it came to be known was/is ? a system that was conceptualized to target launching missiles on the ground and render them harmless. While billions, maybe trillions have been spent, there have been no successful tests. There have been few successful tests of the ground based system, even though the targeters knew the exact path the incoming rocket would take. Turns out it’s even harder to hit something from space than it is from the ground. The movies make everything looks so easy.

From Sputnik to the Space Station to Elon Musk’s colony on Mars. I expect the next sixty years to be just as interesting.

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