This paper recalls the history of sodium guide star laser systems used in astronomy and space situational awareness adaptive optics, analyzing the impact that sodium laser technology evolution has had on routine telescope operations. While it would not be practical to describe every single sodium guide star laser system developed to date, it is possible to characterize their evolution in broad technology terms. The first generation of sodium lasers used dye laser technology to create the first sodium laser guide stars in Hawaii, California, and Spain in the late 1980s and 1990s. These experimental systems were turned into the first laser guide star facilities to equip mediumto- large diameter adaptive optics telescopes, opening a new era of Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics (LGS AO)-enabled diffraction-limited imaging from the ground. Although they produced exciting scientific results, these laser guide star facilities were large, power-hungry and messy. In the USA, a second-generation of sodium lasers was developed in the 2000s that used cleaner, yet still large and complex, solid-state laser technology. These are the systems in routine operation at the 8 to 10m-class astronomical telescopes and 4m-class satellite imaging facilities today. Meanwhile in Europe, a third generation of sodium lasers was being developed using inherently compact and efficient fiber laser technology, and resulting in the only commercially available sodium guide star laser system to date. Fiber-based sodium lasers are being or will soon be deployed at three astronomical telescopes and two space surveillance stations. These highly promising systems are still relatively large to install on telescopes and they remain significantly expensive to procure and maintain. We are thus proposing to develop a fourth generation of sodium lasers: based on semiconductor technology, these lasers could provide a definitive solution to the problem of sodium LGS AO laser sources for all astronomy and space situational awareness applications.