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White House: Thumbs down on Death Star, thumbs up on space

20th Century Fox

The Death Star was a fearsome battle station in the Star Wars saga - but purely fictional.

The White House says building a Death Star would be an out-of-this-galaxy waste of money — not only because it's against government policy to blow up planets, but also because the United States already has access to a space station as well as a laser-wielding space robot.

Today's official statement on the Death Star issue, titled "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For," was written by Paul Shawcross, chief of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget. It comes in response to a "We the People" petition that called on the federal government to start building a "Star Wars"-style Death Star battle station by 2016.

"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," the petition read.

The petition garnered more than 25,000 online signatures within a month, partly due to a signing campaign that went viral on 4chan, Reddit and Twitter. Under the Obama administration's rules for the "We the People" program, that required the White House to come up with a reply.

Shawcross and his colleagues clearly rose to the challenge, with an essay that should satisfy the policy geeks as well as the "Star Wars" geeks. Here's the full text:

This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For
"The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

"However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky — that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser — roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

"Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

"Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

"We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

"We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

"If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force."

Update for 9:35 p.m. ET Jan. 11: The White House statement quickly sparked a Twitter response from Darth Vader himself: "A serious mistake, Mr. President. You can never have enough planet-sized lasers."

Update for 1:40 a.m. ET Jan. 12: NASA may brag about the space station and its laser-equipped Curiosity rover, but that's not enough, Death Star PR says in a Twitter update: "Until you put the laser and the space station together and start blowing up planets, you're not doing enough Science." 

Other spaced-out petitions:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.