In the 1980s, as NASA was just gearing up for the development of an international space station, the Pentagon was already eyeing the potential of a similar station for military operations. Such technology would complement the programs of the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). Military officials had the idea that a military space station could fuel Star Wars weapons, serve as a post to launch reconnaissance and battle missions, and act as a service station for space weapons. The military figured that it would be easier, and less expensive, to accomplish these tasks in space than on the ground.
At the time, a report by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics proposed that $1.8 million be spent to enhance the technology needed to develop a military space station. They recommended the development of radiation protection, high-pressure suits for military astronauts, as well as shields and other defenses to protect against the laser attacks and nuclear bombs they anticipated would threaten the station. Not everyone in the government was onboard with the idea, though. Congressman Norman Y. Mineta introduced a bill in 1987 that would prohibit military use of the space station, arguing that "NASA's credibility is at risk" [source: New York Times].
The idea of a military space station as it was originally conceived never became a reality. Today, the International Space Station is fully operational, but for civilian, not military purposes. Though the Pentagon still looks to space, its interests lie more in protecting galactic assets from attack (especially by terrorists), rather than in launching military operations.
To learn more about space stations, the Cold War and the space race, spy the links below.
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- Broad, William J. "Space Station is Studied by Military." The New York Times. April 7, 1987.
- Broad, William J. "Spy Satellites' Early Role as 'Floodlight' Coming Clear." The New York Times. September 12, 1995.
- Day, Dwayne A. "All along the watchtower." The Space Review. February 11, 2008. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1057/1
- David, Leonard. "New ISS Duty: A Military Outpost?" SPACE.com, September 24, 2001. http://www.space.com/news/iss_military_010924-1.html.
- Karl, Jonathan. "So High, So Fast." ABC News. August 17, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Story?id=3490523.
- "Manned: Almaz." http://www.russianspaceweb.com/almaz_ops3.html.
- Minkel, JR. "Space Station Could Beam Secret Quantum Codes by 2014." Scientific American. June 9, 2008. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=space-station-could-beam.
- NASA. "International Space Station: Russian Space Stations." January 1997.
- NOVA. "Secret Astronauts." http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/astrospies/profiles.html.
- Strom, Steven R. "The Best Laid Plans: A History of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory." Crosslink. http://www.aero.org/publications/crosslink/summer2004/02.html.
- The New York Times. "SCIENCE WATCH; Military Has Plans for Space Station." March 15, 1988.
- Wright, David and Lisbeth Gronlund. "Twenty-five years after Reagan's Star Wars Speech." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. April 1, 2008. http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/twenty-five-years-after-reagans-star-wars-speech