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The White House strikes back: No Death Star in the works

January 14, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • A battle is fought around the empire's new Death Star in "Return of the Jedi." The White House has turned down a petition to build the iconic "Star Wars" superweapon.
A battle is fought around the empire's new Death Star in "Return… (1997 Lucasfilm Ltd. All…)

The White House may have crushed the dreams of many a "Star Wars" fan by officially turning down a petition to start working on a Death Star. The silver lining? It did it awesomely.

"The administration does not support blowing up planets," according to the official statement by Paul Shawcross, chief of the Office of Management and Budget's Science and Space Branch.

Regardless of one’s opinion of that un-imperial political stance, it’s difficult to argue with the numbers: Lehigh University economics students calculated that a Death Star would cost $852,000,000,000,000,000 -- that’s $852 quadrillion, in case you lost count of the zeros. (The White House statement rounded down to $850 quadrillion, because at that level, what difference do a couple of Qs make?)

The rejection might disappoint the 34,000-plus folks who signed the petition, which presented a Death Star project as a way to jump-start the still-struggling U.S. economy.

“By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star,” the petition says, “the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration and more, and strengthen our national defense.”

But, as the White House statement points out, it’s hard to argue away the Death Star’s proven failings.

“Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” Shawcross strikes back.

The statement goes on to plug several initiatives with "Star Wars" references: the International Space Station ("that’s no moon" it says of the man-made orbiter); development of robotic prosthetics (dubbed "Luke’s arm"); and the NASA initiative to support private ventures into orbit (dubbed the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, or C3PO, a nod to the sci-fi epic's neurotic humanoid robot.)

But it's not just building a Death Star that future engineers may have to forgo. The White House’s praise of science and engineering comes at a time of economic uncertainty, with NASA considering planning for leaner times, as discussed at a town hall meeting last week at the American Astronomical Society gathering in Long Beach.

There may not even be enough money for a big-budget flagship mission after the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018, NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz said at the time.

Still, for those not yet charmed into submission, the White House response includes links to President Obama sparring with a light saber and helping a student shoot his advanced marshmallow cannon.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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