When President Ronald Reagan asked physicist George A. Keyworth II to start thinking about how to shoot down an enemy’s ballistic missiles, few imagined a world in which a chubby dictator’s missiles and bombs would pose a threat to the U.S.
Jay Keyworth, who died on Aug. 23, became Reagan’s science adviser in 1981. Reagan believed that the Cold War needed to end, and part of his strategy for ending it was developing a technology to shoot down ballistic missiles in flight. It is hard to overstate the derision that greeted Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. The day after Reagan announced SDI, Sen. Ted Kennedy mocked the President’s “reckless Star Wars schemes.”
Used relentlessly by the press to describe SDI, the Star Wars name stuck, and Jay Keyworth’s job was to convince skeptics that Reagan’s idea of shooting down missiles in flight wasn’t Hollywood science fiction.
The opposition to building antimissile defense systems never relented. To his credit, and the country’s good fortune, Jay Keyworth was tireless in publicly supporting the effort as scientifically achievable. It eventually gave us systems like Thaad, which can effectively intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and is now deployed on the Korean Peninsula...