They say it’s for shooting down satellites, but anyone alive during the Reagan era and/or who sat through Spies Like Us knows what it’s really for.

If we research this technology, other countries might start researching it. If we don’t research it, they certainly won’t either. Right, Congresswoman Sanchez?

But some Congressional Democrats and other experts fault the research as potential fuel for an antisatellite arms race that could ultimately hurt this nation more than others because the United States relies so heavily on military satellites, which aid navigation, reconnaissance and attack warning.

In a statement, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat on the subcommittee who opposes the laser’s development, thanked her Republican colleagues for agreeing to curb a program “with the potential to weaponize space.”

That last bit refers to the fact that the Armed Services Subcomittee on Strategic Forces voted last week — unanimously — to cut the project’s budget for FY 2007 even though it costs next to nothing: $20 million this year, climbing to $30 million by 2011. The full House committee will consider the issue later today.

I’ll be appearing before the panel sometime this morning to deliver my prepared remarks, “It’s Too F’n Cool Not to Build.”

Here’s a close-up of the laser cannon; I like to think of it as Death Star: The Early Years. Here’s a graphic from the NYT that summarizes the latest technological breakthrough. And here’s a history of the laser program which notes that they already succeeded in shooting down atmospheric aircraft — 27 years ago.