Star Wars science: 21 ways to take down the Death Star

A must-read for technology teachers, this article from Times Higher Education explains how the Rebel Alliance could have applied engineering principles to their attack on the Death Star…

First there was Skywalker. Then there was Guy Walker.

While Luke Skywalker harnessed the Force to take down the Death Star, Guy Walker, associate professor in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University, has created 21 ways to destroy it by simply using engineering.

“Fair play to the Empire: when we used standard level hazard and operability studies we didn’t get very far,” Dr Walker said. “But then we went with the more intensive ‘Cognitive Work Analysis’ programme, which highlighted areas of Death Star operational vulnerability that Darth Vader, or at least his key management team, really should have been across.”

He admitted having a good deal of fun applying these systems to the Death Star, but insists that the project does have its serious side.

“Resilience is a major issue in civil engineering projects, key to our transport systems, power stations, all our major infrastructure projects. That means looking at not only the engineering in isolation, but at how the system operates in the real world, including, most importantly, human interaction with the systems.”

21 alternative ways to take down the Death Star

  1. Infiltrate from the inside and seize critical Death Star controls (as per the disablement of the tractor-beam reactor coupling in the film).
  2. Shut the main reactor down (only a temporary solution).
  3. Undertake a suicide mission… not really family entertainment, however.
  4. Use “soft power” and entice Stormtroopers to defect. Create an insurgency.
  5. Harness super laser energy and create a critical situation such as blocking thermal exhausts ports, thus robbing the station of its ability to expel excess heat and energy.
  6. Shut down the energy shields and turn off the force field, then use large Star Destroyers to inflict critical damage.
  7. Sabotage the laser-focusing nexus.
  8. Use navicomputer to collide the Death Star with a planet or sun.
  9. Perform remote attack using hacking.
  10. Sabotage hyperdrive station and hyperdrive the Death Star into a planet or sun (see above).
  11. Create artificial gravity in wrong direction.
  12. Sabotage medical droids and “turn them rogue”.
  13. Poison atmosphere.
  14. Infect or sabotage maintenance droids by gradually degrading their performance so that no one would suspect they were secretly allowing normal faults to propagate and worsen (like the famous Stuxnet virus).
  15. Disable the back-up systems to make the rest of system more brittle and vulnerable to attack.
  16. Disrupt the command and control capability (eg, reduce opportunities for communication and information flow)… it would take ages to get from one side of the Death Star to the other to meet in person.
  17. Attack the executive docking bay when VIPs are arriving. “Cut the head off the snake”: Would the “dumb” Stormtroopers know what to do?
  18. Disable the tractor beam and prevent Death Star from capturing spaceborne objects. Use said objects to inflict critical damage.
  19. Remove the atmosphere (disable the blast doors and compartmentalisation).
  20. Depressurise the interior too quickly and cause hull damage/implosion.
  21. Have R2D2 log in to Imperial Network and plant a computer virus to disable critical systems (in the style of Independence Day).

Dr Walker and his team have published a book, Human Factors Methods: A Practical Guide for Engineering and Design, which explores the human role in engineering systems and how to take account of human interaction in their everyday operations.

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