Half a Century of Laser Weapons

Jeff Hecht

Even before the laser was invented, science fiction writers saw rich potential in the use of light-beam “death rays” as powerful tools of destruction. But the real history of directed-energy weapons in the United States has been fraught with political and technical challenges and setbacks.


figureRay gun made from glass insulator disks from high voltage cables.

Fifty years ago, two physicists walked into the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency with just the kind of far-out idea that ARPA wanted. Gordon Gould and Lawrence Goldmuntz had a plan to generate a beam of coherent light. Gould called it a laser.

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