Stars Wars Lives

  • First Test of Defensive Prototype Succeeds
  • Despite Criticism, Development Moves Ahead
  • Hopes Are For System In Place By 2005

    (CBS News)LOS ANGELES Sunday, October 03,1999 - 08:16 PM ET

    No sooner had President Clinton arrived in Los Angeles for his fundraising trip last night than he looked up in the sky and saw a vapor trail, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. He asked the Secret Service to find out what it was.

    It was a top secret test of a national missile defense system, popularly known as Star Wars. First, a Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off from Vandenburg Air Force Base.

    Twenty minutes later and four thousand miles away, an experimental missile set out on a collision course.

    Ten minutes later, they collided on impact over the Pacific at 16,000 miles an hour.

    It was a much-needed success for the Pentagon - the first test of a prototype being designed to destroy nuclear missiles launched by rogue states or terrorists. But star wars technology has its critics.

    "There are two big problems," says John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists. "First, it's gonna miss some of the incoming warheads because there are gonna be a lot of decoy warheads flying along and it won't know what to hit. The other problem is that a lot of countries like China and Russia are gonna build up their nuclear arsenal so they'll be sure of being able to overcome the defense."

    But Pike is in the minority. So far, both the President and Congress back the program. Last night's success means testing will move forward. A system to destroy enemy nuclear missiles in mid-air could be up and running in 2005.

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