In the 1980s, Russian astronauts (Cosmonauts) may have taken a prototype laser pistol with them into space. What was this retrofuturistic weapon, and how did it work? Was it real, only a prototype, or pure Soviet sci-fi propaganda? Read excerpts from three sources below for images, video and more information.
Yes, these are real handheld laser weapons developed in the 1980s for cosmonauts. These futuristic pistols used pyrotechnic flashbulb ammunition, and their primary function was to disable optical sensors on enemy spacecraft or satellites. Allegedly the laser beams of these recoilless guns were energetic enough to burn through a helmet visor, or to blind anybody from 65 feet.
How did the Soviet laser pistol work?
In 1984, to protect manned orbital stations and long term manned stations, the Soviet Military Academy developed a really fantastic weapon – a fiber laser gun.
The main requirements to the weapon were: 1) a small size; and 2) ability to destroy the optic systems of an enemy.
The main elements of the laser gun (as any laser) could be the active medium, a pump source and an optical resonator. But it was subsequently decided to replace the active medium with fiber-optic elements. Disposable pyrotechnic electronic flashes were used as a source of light pumping.
The gun’s laser beam maintains a “burning and blinding” effect at a distance of up to twenty meters.
Based on the pyrotechnic-flash laser pistol, a laser revolver was designed with a drum magazine. Its creators also announced the ability of the revolver to convert into a medical tool (scalpel) if necessary.
All experimental (i.e. prototyping, research and development) works were done manually. Prior to the start of production for the pistol’s flash elements, however, the conversion of the defence industry (?) put an end to the project.
Today this “wonder weapon” may be seen at the Museum of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Military Academy, named after Peter the Great in Moscow.
Only a prototype?
A skeptical perspective from TheFirearmBlog:
The pistol may have functioned just like the original ruby laser built by Theodore Maiman in 1960 (photo below). This laser worked by “pumping” a synthetic ruby rod with very bright light from a flashtube. The ruby rod would then emit a short laser pulse.
The Soviet laser gun looks like it had a ruby rod instead of a barrel. It’s fed by cartridges from a magazine. Either those cartridges contain a chemical flash powder, or they were ultra-high discharge batteries/cells that could power the laser for one “shot”, which would be multiple pulses, before having to be disposed of.
The output of this laser would be minimal. A quick glance through Electronic Engineering papers from the 1960s and 1970s report scientists achieving just 6% efficiency with ruby lasers. In other words, there is no way that this laser would burn a hole in a US or British satellite. If cosmonauts really needed to do some damage, they had the nifty Soviet TP-82 Space Pistol on hand.
Bullets Made of Light
Maybe the laser pistol had a more specific purpose:
Rather than blind an adversary or burn a hole in an opponent’s space suit, Russian cosmonauts may have designed the laser pistol for one sole purpose: shoot out the optics on enemy satellites.
The Russian cosmonauts had some pretty sneaky weaponry. But according to TheFirearmBlog (quoted above), this laser pistol probably didn’t have the oomph required to do any real damage. Its intended purpose was to give the cosmonauts the ability to destroy optical components on enemy satellites that were floating through space.
The “bullets” in the magazine are likely ultra-high discharge batteries that would power the laser for a short time, or possibly a form of chemical flash powder to create the same effect.
Even if it can’t burn holes through satellites, the Soviet laser pistol is a pretty sweet piece of gear.
1. Nagy, Attila. (02 Apr 2016). The Ultimate List of Weapons Astronauts Have Carried Into Orbit. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/the-ultimate-list-of-weapons-astronauts-have-carried-in-1768199454.
2. Johnson, Steve. (8 Oct 2013). The Soviet Laser Pistol. The Firearms Blog. Retrieved from http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2013/10/08/soviet-laser-pistol/.
3. (5 Oct 2013). Laser Gun For a Soviet Cosmonaut. English/Russia. Retrieved from http://englishrussia.com/2013/10/05/laser-gun-for-a-soviet-cosmonaut/.
4. McCluskey, Brent. (10 Oct 2013). Soviet laser pistol: The secret space weapon of Russian cosmonauts. Guns dot com. Retrieved from http://www.guns.com/2013/10/10/soviet-laser-pistol-secret-weapon-russian-cosmonauts-4-photos/.