We may yet see real life "Star Wars" some day

There's a very quiet, but nonetheless serious space arms race going on today.  Its roots trace back to the Cold War, in which the U.S.'s NASA and Russia's Soviet Space Program looked at developing in-space weaponry.  The most fruitful result of this research was intercontinental ballistic missiles -- rockets that reach sub-orbital heights to deliver nuclear payloads to distant locations.

However, the end of the Cold War and the UN's weak Outer Space Treaty, in effect since 1966, have done little to halt the silent efforts to develop the weapons needed to one day dominate one's rivals in space.

In 2007, China successfully killed a weather satellite using a solid fuel rocket.  The U.S. countered in 2008, with the missile destruction of its spy satellite USA 193, which it said was malfunctioning and could prove a "danger to people on Earth".

Now India has joined the game of militarization of space.  The director-general of India's defense research organization on Jan. 3 told the press that his country was currently working on an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle and lasers, which could be combined to destroy enemy satellites.

V.K. Saraswat, director-general of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which is part of India's Ministry of Defence, elaborated, "The kill vehicle, which is needed for intercepting the satellite, needs to be developed, and that work is going on as part of the ballistic missile defense program."

The onboard lasers would not be used as a high energy weapon, but rather as a positioning device to make sure a destructive payload was delivered to the target.  Mr. Saraswat explains, "[The laser] will be able to give you a concrete picture of the satellite, and use that picture to guide your kill vehicle towards that. That work has yet to be done."

If the efforts of China, the U.S., Russia, and now India are any indication, it appears that past human wars on the land and on sea may only be a prelude to wars in outer space; the sweeping stellar battles of science fiction tales such as Star Wars may one day become reality.  For now, though, space warfare is unlikely because there's little to be gained from it in terms of resources.  However, if man has not learned to coexist more peacefully by the time we begin to colonize other celestial bodies and mine their resources, tensions may boil over and successor of these space weapons -- now mere novelties -- may see use.

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