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THEY most famously used them to drag Han and Luke into the Death Star, and now NASA have invested $US100,000 into researching them, according to the NASA website. Principal Investigator Paul Stysley and his team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre have been awarded $US100,000 by the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist to study three different experimental methods for transporting particles via laser light. Tractor beams are devices for trapping and moving objects using laser light, but were previously only feasible in the realms of science-fiction.
"Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn't fanciful or beyond current technological know-how," Stysley said in a NASA article. However, for the moment, the team is only aiming for tractor beams powerful enough to move small particles – anything bigger is currently impossible. "The original thought was that we could use tractor beams for cleaning up orbital debris," Stysley continued. "But to pull something that huge would be almost impossible - at least now. That's when it bubbled up that perhaps we could use the same approach for sample collection."