The petition created at the White House site, "We the People," for the United States to build a "Star Wars"-style "Death Star" seems, at first glance, to be another example, like secession, of people using the petition process to engage in whimsy.
However, while the concept of building space based military platforms the size of a small moon, as depicted in "Star Wars," may seem grandiose, weapons systems in space is based on mainstream military thinking.
Petition, to build a death star
The petition does not actually say, in so many words, to build a planet killing death star as the one with which Darth Vader terrorized the galaxy far, far away only to see it destroyed by Luke Skywalker. The wording of the petition says, "By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense." This could be fulfilled by a more modest weapons platform.
Reagan's SDI envisioned weapons in space
When President Ronald Reagan first proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars," it was envisioned as a multi-layered defense that included space-based elements, including early warning detection systems and weapons such as lasers to shoot down Soviet missiles, according to an article in Think Quest. The end of the Cold War precluded the building of a comprehensive missile defense system, especially the space-based portion.
Weapon platforms in space envisioned in "The Next Hundred Years"
In a study of strategic trends in the 21st century entitled "The Next Hundred Years," George Friedman speculated about space wars centering around space-based platforms he called "battlestars." According to a review of the book in "The Space Review," Friedman envisioned such platforms in geosynchronous orbit with crews of hundreds, along with satellite battle groups. These systems would not only provide watch capability over the Earth's surface but also the ability to strike at ground-based targets. Friedman envisioned these "battlestars" being attacked by missiles launched clandestinely from the far side of the moon.
Space based "death stars": fanciful or realistic?
The Space Review piece suggested that while the space war scenario in Friedman's book seemed like science fiction, it is based on current thinking of how the military might operate in space decades hence. So the idea of building a "death star," while it might sound silly, has some basis in reality.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.