Star Wars Technology in Real Life
Did you know that sound actually exists in space? Not in a traditional fashion of course, since here on Earth we are able to experience waves bouncing off of air molecules specifically. In space, the same waves bounce between molecules as well, but we cannot pick up on those frequencies. Now while the space is sort of a virtual vacuum, the sound nevertheless does exist in the form of an electromagnetic vibration which pulsates in similar wavelengths. Of course, the nosy guys from NASA have designed special instruments that can record these electromagnetic waves and translate them into sounds that our ears can actually perceive. As a matter of fact, NASA has a collection of space sounds on their site, so you can hear everything from Saturn’s Rings to the sounds of the Sun.
Therefore, the next time you’re bitching to someone about the “realism” in movies, just remember that while you wouldn’t hear those “pew-pews” in a TIE Fighter/X-Wing battle, there is definitely sound in outer space… Technically.
Now that we got that out of our way, it is time for us to put our Star Wars lipstick on, grab a Duracell battery-powered light-saber, sell our souls to Disney and talk some Star Wars science. Now, for a saga that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far away (you know the rest), Star Wars technology sure does have some parallels in the contemporary world of cience. Needless to say, sci-fi has influenced innovators for over a century, and complex concepts and futuristic ideas that were inconceivable in 1977, when the first movie came out, have had almost four decades to become a reality. So let’s take a look at a few real life Star Wars technologies that you can annoy your friends with the next time somebody brings up jet packs.
Pew pews/Laser weapons
A healthy-legged Harrison Ford once warned young Mark Hamill:
Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Ronald Reagan, a God-fearing man if there ever was one, was certainly impressed. So much so, that in 1983, he initiated The Strategic Defense Initiative – also known as, you guessed it, Star Wars. With the pressure of the Cold War looming overhead, Mr. Regan firmly believed that the U.S. needed space-based nuclear X-ray lasers to fend off the Soviets (you can’t make this stuff up). While the Russian-killing, space-cannon plans were abandoned few decades ago, the U.S. Navy has deployed laser weaponry aboard warships such as USS Ponce, to defend against small boats and drones.
Similarly, the Death Star-inspired electromagnetic ray gun will be tested for deployment on the USS Zumwalt. In addition, China is working on its own version of the weapon – an electromagnetic arms race has begun.
Luke’s artificial hand
Our species was working on prosthetics long before people were misquoting the guy who cut Luke’s hand off. The oldest one was found in the tomb of an Egyptian nobleman, dating around 950 BC. By the Middle Ages, killing people with a steel blade in the name of your Lord was in high-demand, so craftsman had created steel hands that could securely grip a sword using an intricate system of pulleys and leverages. By the beginning of this millennium, scientists were trying to create a mechanical hand capable of performing simultaneous powered movements for disabled veterans returning home from war. The result was “Deka” (codenamed Luke, after the leader of 2Live Crew, naturally), a battery-powered artificial limb, controlled by myoelectricity. Yeah, I never heard of it either, but basically it means that the limb detects movements in various muscle groups via attached electrodes and then converts those movements into motor control.
While there is a fat chance that we will spot a Landspeeder passing us by on the highway any time soon, this concept managed to arouse the interest of multiple companies, and even the US military is considering employing a particular version of a “landspeeder” called a hover bike. Believe it or not, by donating money to the Malloy Aeronautics company, you can obtain a prototype of this piece of machinery for yourself.
On the other hand, if your Star Wars merch-affection can be satisfied with a movie replica, I feel compelled to mention this amazing work from Daniel Deutsch, a Lucasfilm desginer. Daniel has also made an R2-D2 with a built-in video projector, but this fiber glass model is certainly one of his best works that I’ve seen. The three wheel Landspeeder is a genuine depiction of the one that we’ve seen in the movie. It doesn’t hover though.
While they are not cute in the real world (and the military probably couldn’t make money on merchandising), robots today are essential to modern warfare. Hundreds and hundreds of robots of all shapes and sizes have already served the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan; from MQ-9 Reapers in the air, to the Packbots on the ground.
In addition, the U.S. army (strategically and masterfully) plans to one-up Star Wars in the near future – the army is developing robots that will fly alongside manned aircrafts as wingmen. Take that Lucas, our R2s won’t have to ride in the back of our fighters, they’ll be flying on their own.
There is a small, but a realistic possibility that WW3 might erupt, not over terrorists, not over oil – but over orbital competition. Space is now the nervous system of the modern military, with over a thousand of communication satellites connecting troops, planes and missiles. However, the concept of space warfare is nothing new – during the WW2. The Nazis planned a so-called “Amerika” space bomber for a sole purpose of attacking the United States. Fortunately, the war ended before the plan could come to fruition. Today, America, Russia and China are all working on some sort of space-based military hardware, but by far the most interesting (and scary, to be honest) testing in recent past was done by the Soviets. In late 2014, a mysterious object, first believed to be a piece of space debris, turned out to be a military satellite launched in July of the same year. The Russian Ministry of Defense refused to elaborate on the purpose of the object, but experts speculated that the launch was the first step in the revival of the Anti-satellite system program, simply dubbed “Istrebitel Sputnikov” – the “satellite killer”. If that is not enough, astronomers are planning to mount a laser on the International Space Station in 2017. The official reason? Destroying any dangerous space debris. The unofficial reason? Destroying an entire planet.
At first, I taught that we need an original revolutionary sci-fi blockbuster to empty our pockets and to fire up our collective imagination. However, there is a lot of cool stuff that Star Wars had that we are yet to develop. Like tractor beams, that board game Chewbacca played one time, a hologram that is not the reincarnation of Tupac and effin light-sabers (without the damn Duracel batteries), just to name a few.
Thankfully, with a slew of sequels coming in the near future, we will surely inspire a new generation of geniuses who will try to make science fiction into science reality. I honestly hope that they will become a far more rational beings that will nevertheless still hate Jar Jar Binks.
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