It's not 'Star Trek,' but NASA wants a 'tractor beam'
November 3rd, 2011
12:51 PM ET

It's not 'Star Trek,' but NASA wants a 'tractor beam'

The Death Star in "Star Wars" reeled in space ships with "tractor beams." So did Captain Kirk's USS Enterprise on "Star Trek."

Now NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, aims to develop a real tractor beam, but on a much smaller scale.

Here's the concept: Unmanned space probes might use laser beam technology to catch tiny particles several meters away and pull them into the probe for analysis.

Technically, the idea isn't called a "tractor beam" – scientists know it as "optical trapping." Its beginnings date back to the 1970s, according to NASA's Paul Stysley and Barry Coyle. They, along with colleague Demetrios Poulios, have been given $100,000 to begin the first phase toward developing the technology.

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