WASHINGTON: Zapping a satellite with a big ground-based laser beam may be a cool and novel thing to do. But does it have any value beyond fulfilling the Pentagon's need to play with big toys? The test of the Mid-Infra-Red Advanced Chemical Laser, which will be fired at an Air Force weather satellite 640 miles away sometime during the next few days from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, was approved by Defense Secretary Cohen Wednesday. The decision provoked howls of protest from congressmen who said it would spark an arms race in space. Top brass defended the experiment: "The purpose is to collect data that will help us improve computer models used in planning protection measures for U.S. satellite systems," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Michael Doubleday. Pull the other one, says TIME military correspondent Mark Thompson. "The Pentagon can spin this test anyway it wants, but the fact of the matter is a lot of money has been spent on this thing and now they want more proof of what it can do." Meanwhile, don't expect any Gulf War-style space invader shots on the evening news: The media won't be allowed anywhere near this one.