The lasera milestone invention of the mid-twentieth centuryquickly captured the imagination of the Pentagon as the key to the ultimate weapon. Veteran science writer Jeff Hecht tells the inside story of the adventures and misadventures of scientists and military strategists as they exerted Herculean though often futile efforts to adapt the laser for military uses. From the 1950s' sci-fi vision of the "death ray," through the Reagan administration's "Star Wars" missile defense system, to more promising developments today, Hecht provides an entertaining history.
As the author illustrates, there has always been a great deal of enthusiasm and false starts surrounding lasers. He describes a giant laser that filled a Boeing 747, lasers powered like rocket engines, plans for an orbiting fleet of robotic laser battle stations to destroy nuclear missiles, claims that nuclear bombs could produce intense X-ray laser beams, and a scheme to bounce laser beams off giant orbiting relay mirrors. Those far-out ideas remain science fiction. Meanwhile, in civilian sectors, the laser is already being successfully used in fiber optic cables, scanners, medical devices, and industrial cutting tools. Now those laser cutting tools are leading to a new generation of laser weapons that just might stop insurgent rockets.
Replete with interesting characters, bizarre schemes, and wonderful inventions, this is a well-told tale about the evolution of technology and the reaches of human ambition.
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About the Author
Jeff Hecht is an award-winning freelance science and technology writer, a longtime contributor to New Scientist magazine, a contributing editor of Laser Focus World magazine, and the author of thirteen books, including Introduction to Laser Technology, 4th ed. (with Breck Hitz and J. J. Ewing); Understanding Lasers, 4th ed.; Understanding Fiber Optics, 5th ed.; Beam: The Race to Make the Laser; City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics; and Laser Pioneers. He has also published articles in Nature, IEEE Spectrum, Sky & Telescope, and other publications. He is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and a life senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
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From Chapter 9 - THE QUEST FOR THE ULTIMATE WEAPON
Excerpted from "Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon"
Copyright © 2019 Jeff Hecht.
Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Death Rays: From Thunder Gods to Mad Scientists 7
Chapter 2 How the Pentagon Almost Invented the Laser 39
Chapter 3 The Incredible Rocket-Engine Laser 69
Chapter 4 Space Lasers on the High Frontier 103
Chapter 5 The "Star Wars" Wars 131
Chapter 6 The Airborne Laser Gets off the Ground 161
Chapter 7 Back to the Battlefield against Insurgents 187
Chapter 8 Laser Weapons Go Solid-State 201
Chapter 9 The Quest for the Ultimate Weapon 221