Tools are how we turned primate starvation into "I'd like my steak rare, with a bottle of red." Most of our tools merely obey the laws of physics, but lasers are the laws of physics. We caged quantum mechanics to cut perfect lines through a complicated universe. A single pen laser would tell aliens more about our genius than the complete works of Shakespeare. The laser demonstrates mastery of mind, math, and matter. Shakespeare makes us look like lemmings committed to suicide by misunderstanding. Behold the brilliance of five laser systems being built or already shining right now.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Lasers are awesome, but they aren't toys. That's why they have their own warning sign. Safety volunteer Black Rock Ranger Kelli Halston was blinded by a high-power laser and now faces crippling injuries and debt. You can help her here: http://www.gofundme.com/eyebeam
This is the kind of problem where there's no such thing as too much help. Thank you.
Matter tells space how to curve, space tells matter how to move, and we worked out both with a nervous system designed to hunt bananas. (The only real "life hack" is our entire consciousness). Gravity is the most obvious of the four fundamental forces, but it's also the weakest, which is why we usually observe spacetime curvature using entire galaxies across billions of light-years. The LISA Pathfinder will do it in 38 centimeters.
ESA, Astrium UK
Examining existence in less space than a party pizza
Physicists often simplify problems by ignoring things, approximating the answer by getting rid of confounding complications. LISA Pathfinder will do it for real. The spacecraft will leave Earth behind to find some peace and quiet, flying to a relatively undisturbed area of the Solar System where it'll use its own hull to shield the two most beautiful cubes in existence from the rest of that existence.
The heavenly opposite of the Hellraiser puzzle box
Each cube is 1.96 kg of polished perfection, a 46-mm-sided regular hexahedron of gold-platinum alloy. This material is used because it has a low magnetic susceptibility, not just to make a prize higher than Olympic gold for shot put far above and beyond the call of gravity.
The cubes will float inside LISA-P. Lasers will track how far it is from them to within a billionth of a meter, firing liquid metal ion thrusters to maintain the correct distance. This will be the Solar System's only smart game of "not touching you, can't get mad or inaccurate." Laser interferometry will also track the distance between the cubes down to the picometer. Flying through the heavens while measuring things accurate to trillionths of a meter. If angels did dance on the head of a pin, this system could read their shoe size.
ESA, Albert Einstein Institute
This is just the housing for the cubes, and it makes a wedding ring box look like a greasy taco wrapper.
The cubes will fly in almost perfect free fall, protected from everything else in existence, their motion tracing geodesics across the surface of spacetime. We're throwing stones not to see the splash but to surf the shape of reality itself. So LISA will go up high, find something precious inside itself, create an inner calm so that nothing can disturb it, feel the harmonics of light bouncing back and forth between the shining centers, and use this inner harmony to map the shape of the universe. This is a Zen spacecraft.
4ATHENA Laser Blaster
Some people are disappointed that modern lasers don't just vaporize enemies, which is like being disappointed that modern sticks are used for airplanes and building bridges instead of killing cave people. But Lockheed Martin developed the answer to that problem anyway. In fact, it's the answer to any problem, up to and including COBRA plots in GI Joe.
When a GI Joe driver loses their vehicle, they must give up their name and walk the Earth
The Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) is a 30-kW laser, and exactly what happens when someone watches Real Genius and adds 30 years of technological progress. The ATHENA is named for the goddess of wisdom, inspiration, war, mathematics, and skill, and every single one of those applies to the result. As do other divine emotions, like "awe," "fear," and "weeping at the terrible beauty."
In a test, ATHENA "disabled" a truck engine by melting a hole in it from over 1,600 meters away. Another test of her predecessor, ADAM, punctured multiple compartments of a small military boat. New weapons often inspire dystopian fears, but this is a system of hope. Think of it: If Michael Bay's Transformers ever starts happening for real, we'll be able to shut that shit down in 30 seconds instead of three hours.
Behold ADAM, eternal robot king of staring contests
Fiber lasers are what happen when fiber optics decide the only information they need to carry is "goodbye." ATHENA ups the power by combining multiple fiber laser modes into one output beam. The result is a cable which keeps amplifying the light the longer it gets and is flexible enough to aim the output. We invented laser hoses.