New historical evidence has emerged of a shocking incident between the superpowers that almost turned the Cold War into a hot one. Fingers crept toward the nuclear trigger and launch codes were prepared when American military and intelligence agencies discovered a U.S. shuttle was under attack by a Soviet superweapon. President Ronald Reagan, fully briefed, considered ordering a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Russians after he learned that the space shuttle Challenger, still in orbit, had been shot at by a high-energy laser traced back to a mammoth high-tech military complex in the U.S.S.R.
Clark C. McClelland, former NASA ScO
The remarkable story, brought to light by Clark C. McClelland, former ScO (Space Communications Office) for the Space Shuttle Fleet at the sprawling Kennedy Space Center in Florida, appears as a chapter in his book, the Stargate Chronicles.
McClelland, long recognized as an expert on many internal NASA affairs and secrets, wrote about the bombshell incident and revealed that America was inching towards WWIII after the Soviet attack on the unarmed spacecraft.
Artist interpretation of high energy laser attack on spacecraft
Shuttle’s military spy mission
Challenger, during Mission 41-G, allegedly carried an instrument package designed to spy on the U.S.S.R. Commanded by veteran astronaut Robert L. Crippen, the shuttle was tasked to carry out an array of scientific experiments. It was also outfitted with a specially modified Large Format Camera (LFC)—perfect for snapping high-res images of DIA-targeted Soviet installations.
Crew (seated left to right), Jon A. McBride, pilot; Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan, and David C. Leestma.
Standing (left to right), Paul D. Scully-Power, Marc Garneau and commander Robert Crippen (middle).
The U.S. government’s National Reconnaissance Office suspected a large complex under construction in Soviet Tajikistan was a new anti-missile base. Some intelligence also suggested the Soviets were building a large beam weapon, either a high energy laser or particle beam generator.
Archive photos of Soviet ‘laser globe’ installation
The possibility of superweaponry like a beam that could be space-capable and a very big threat to U.S. spacecraft worried both the intelligence and military communities.
Russians power up Terra-3 beam weapon
On October 10, the LFC was activated. It focused on the strategic military missile complex in the region west of China and north of Afghanistan: Nurek, Tajikistan.
The Russians were aware of it.
What the Americans weren’t aware of was the Soviets already had the beam weapon working and a mobile nuclear power plant had been driven to the site earlier to power the giant laser cannon for upcoming scheduled tests.
When the KGB and GRU discovered the military spy mission the Challenger embarked upon above their country, an order was given and passed on to the commander of the missile base to activate the new anti-spacecraft weapon—known as the Terra-3 ruby laser—and shoot it at the American space ship.
Challenger under attack
The crew of the Challenger had no idea they were under attack, nor that a powerful beam weapon had been shot from the surface of the Earth. The deadly beam sizzled through the atmosphere thrusting into space and blasting the orbiting shuttle. The dazzling coherent light struck the craft at an altitude of 218 nautical miles.
The most hair-raising part of the attack followed: the beam interfered with the spacecraft’s electrical functions and caused the crew to become disoriented.
As McClelland describes it: “The Challenger, not realizing it was targeted and under attack by the Terra-3 laser, began to experience dangerous on board systems problems within the orbiter instrumentation which is very important for safety and the return to Earth later.“
Artist’s conception of land-based and orbiting beam weapons
After passing over the territory of the Soviet Union, the ship and crew returned to normal. Many in NASA weren’t informed of the cause of the problems until years later.
But a very aware and angry Pentagon told a furious president exactly what had happened.
When confronted with the evidence, the Soviets backed down quickly offering lame excuses . They argued the deadly laser beam was only meant to irritate the crew.
Conceptual image of Soviet Terra-3 in operation
Soviets flirted with WWIII
The nuclear option is always on the table as a potential response to a deadly action by a bitter adversary.
Modern day land-based high-energy laser weapon
Although the incident did not pass the threshold required to bring that option into play, those familiar with the events tend to agree that if the Soviet’s foolish move had ended with the death of the astronauts or destruction of the shuttle, WWIII might well have been the outcome.
Thankfully, the crew and their craft returned to Earth safely three days after the Terra-3 attack.
Sadly, several years after surviving the Soviet assault, the shuttle Challenger exploded after launch on January 28, 1986 killing all aboard her.
Meanwhile, Russian research into bigger and better beam weapons continues.
Russian General Nikolai Makarov wants more powerful beam weapons
This article first appeared at beforeitsnews
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