Saying it doesn’t make it so, I’m afraid.
Last month, not long before boarding a plane to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas, President Donald Trump signed legislation that created the newest military branch in the United States in more than 70 years: the Space Force.
The new Space Force instead exists inside the Department of the Air Force, in an arrangement similar to that of the Marine Corps and the Navy, which both operate under the Department of the Navy. There will be no secretary of space: As space-ops chief, (General Jay) Raymond now holds the organization’s highest position. The law also stipulates that the Space Force must be built from existing personnel in the Air Force, and does not have the authority to hire new people. The Space Force has simply absorbed the Air Force unit that focuses on space operations, the Air Force Space Command, which was established in 1982. Its members will remain Air Force officers, but those with space-related roles will become Space Force officers in the next year and a half.
Uh oh— with the Space Force under USAF purview instead of being a Space Navy, pretty much the entire output of every SF/space opera writer since Heinlein just went kaput. I bet David Weber, for one, just about had himself a mild stroke when he heard the news.
The prospect of a Space Force has been hazy since Trump first mentioned it, mostly because the proposal seemed to be a passing thought. “I was saying it the other day—’cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space—I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,’” Trump said back in 2018, to an audience of marines. “And I was not really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”
Your biggest official mistake so far, Mr Preznit sir, maybe even an unforgivable one. Why the obvious and totally spectacular name—Star Fleet, dammit!—didn’t occur to you is beyond my ken. Star Fleet already has the uniforms, rank structure, mission profile, and a cool logo ready to go.
On the other hand, though, maybe Trump prefers to wait for the United Federation of Planets to come into existence for that, perhaps as a matter of good taste. But such deference isn’t necessary according to the Star Trek canon itself, for cryin’ out loud:
Starfleet predates the Federation, having originally been an Earth organization, as shown by the television series Star Trek: Enterprise.
So there. Onwards.
The immediate future of the Space Force involves a lot of paperwork and a dash of symbolism, rather than new uniforms and fight songs. Raymond will join the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military officials who advise the president directly, and the service must come up with and submit an organization plan to Congress in February.
While the Space Force is now official, a slight disconnect in reality remains.
I’d say so, yeah, only a goodish bit more than merely “slight.” How could it be otherwise, when the sad shell of the once-great NASA now lacks the hardware and wherewithal to boost humans into high Earth orbit anymore, and American astronauts are reduced to begging a lift to the ISS from the Russians, Indians, Chinese, Ethiopians, or whatever other third-rater out there might have a working rocket handy?
Jeez, even the Air Farce’s mainstay atmospheric platforms are creaky, leaky, and geriatric at fifty to seventy years young, while our supposedly latest and greatest design is looking like more of an albatross (or an apteryx) than an eagle. And just how do we regain our national mojo as doughty explorers of the Final Frontier when we’ve become such trembling ninnies about safety and risk-avoidance that we wet ourselves in fright at the thought of letting our kids play outside?
Maybe the creation of a Space Force with no readily usable spacefaring vehicles at hand could turn out to be a boost for nascent private outfits like SpaceX, and a lift to the spirits for those of us cake-eating civilians who still care about these things. But I can’t help but feel it’s a mildly embarrassing bit of hubris as well. Who knows, maybe we’ll live up to it someday. If we don’t, it’s a dead cert that somebody else will.