Because of this [low power] impediment, most in the field gave up on masers and moved on to lasers, which use the same principles of physics, but work with optical light instead of microwaves. Lasers are now used in applications ranging from eye surgery to CD players.
The poor maser lived on in obscurity. It found only a few niche uses, such as boosting radio signals from distant spacecraft — including NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Those masers work only when cooled to less than ten degrees above absolute zero, and even then they are not nearly as powerful as lasers.
To paraphrase Ray “Bones” Barboni, this is the exact frikkin’ thing I needed. A little pique after a blogcation to get the blood going again. And to quote Jules Winnfield, “Well, allow me to retort.”
First of all, “microwave laser” is just … wrong. The maser came first, so popularity aside, you don’t just ignore the history. That’s like touting a cover song while ignoring the songwriter who first recorded it. Blasphemy.
Second, and more importantly, the “first practical maser”? The mind boggles. Well, my mind does, anyway. Hydrogen masers have been the best atomic clocks at time scales out to a day or so for quite a while, and even with the advent of laser-cooled atomic clocks in the past decade, they only surpass masers after about a day of integration. (This is why the even more advanced optical clocks you read about every few months cannot be called better, in some sense — they don’t yet run long enough to make a significant contribution to timekeeping). You can make the argument that the world’s timekeeping, backbone for GPS and other timing-dependent technologies is living in obscurity, but I can’t see how that isn’t practical.