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Nick Sagan on the Legacy of Voyager

A Q&A with the son of Carl Sagan and one of the voices on the Voyager Golden Records

3 min read
Photo of Carl and Nick Sagan
Photo: Courtesy of Nick Sagan

27 April 2011—When the twin Voyager space probes launched nearly 34 years ago, they captured imaginations (and spawned the first Star Trek movie plot) by carrying a high-tech greeting card from the human race—a gold-plated phonograph disc with descriptions of humans, greetings, and Earth's location.

With the Voyagers now speeding through interstellar space, NASA will host a panel on 28 April to discuss the project's scientific and philosophical impact. The discussion will stream live at 1:00 p.m. eastern time on both the NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory sites.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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