The United States will soon have a 6th branch of its Armed Forces: the U. S. Space Corps. The House Armed Services Committee voted late Wednesday night to create this as a split from the Air Force, which will in turn absorb the Air Force’s current space missions. A number of senators and representatives have come forward since, shocked to learn about a major reorganization of our military with little discussion at the highest levels. Apparently this move is bipartisan and establishes a new U. S. Space Command. Even more interesting, this has been an option on the table since 2001, so it’s hardly a snap decision.
Never in a million years did I expect to see something like this in my lifetime. Perhaps that was shortsighted on my part. You see, to my mind, I hear “Space Corps” and think “Starship Troopers.” It’s very sci-fi. Then again, context is everything. I regularly use tools that were considered sci-fi on Star Trek back in the day. One of my grandfathers was born two years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk. My other grandfather was in the Army Air Corps when it split off in 1947 to become the U. S. Air Force. I was born 13 years after the first manned space flight and 5 years after man walked on the moon. I’ve personally seen the beginning and end of our space shuttle program and the construction of the International Space Station. The ISS was but a dream to be realized my senior year of high school. The Powers That Be were talking weaponization of space while I was still in single digits. So while it seems way out there at first blush, a crackpot idea at best, this was coming one way or another, and always sooner than I thought. When you put it into context, it was always a question of when, not if. Really, in this perspective, it’s a small wonder it hasn’t happened sooner.
The U. S. space program was once the cutting edge of everything we stood for. Sure, it was a political pissing contest with the former Soviet Union in a time when we needed heroes and a reason to cheer them on. But it inspired another generation to get engaged, and it also kept us on the cutting edge of exploration and technology. In this latter part it’s still paying dividends. I’ve lamented the shortsightedness of under-funding NASA. I’ve always felt the best way to protect us and to get the best from our space exploration was to keep it out of privatized hands and out of military control. Keep it civilian, with military-trained experts lending to civilian oversight and public cooperation. This way everyone benefits from the science and technology.
But this isn’t exactly space exploration, is it? It’s a branch of the Armed Forces, charged with protection of U. S. citizens. Protection from whom? From what? By what means? How does it change our operations? Right now, our astronauts hitch rides to the ISS on Russian Soyuz rockets because NASA has no active vehicular program since retiring our shuttles. Our explorations are largely through Mars probes and space telescopes such as Hubble and SOFIA. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson when he says the reason to learn how to terraform other worlds is to learn how to turn Earth back into Earth. We need a space program to do that too. The more we learn out there, on all fronts, the more we all benefit here. Is militarization somehow needed to put us back in the space race? Is this how we suddenly justify the enormous defense budget we have, by allocating part of it to space resources? It sounds crazy, but I’m remarkably ok with that on some level if NASA is going to continually be shafted. My hope is NASA will never become obsolete and remain part of our ongoing mission of science and exploration. So long as the experts are there, they’ll be called upon. On the other hand, I’m thinking the creation of a space-based military will be mirrored in kind by other nations, and sooner or later those forces will come into conflict. That’s inevitable.
When the Air Force was created, it served a clear and present need in the era of cold war when aerial technology had already served two world wars. The Powers That Be claim to see one here in the creation of the Space Corps. I’m not so certain civilian populations would agree. Then again, many civilians don’t have the foresight to see the advantages of NASA or the space program either. I’m trying to see the positive side of this. I’m wondering what recruitment and training will look like. Will it draw people away from the Air Force and other branches of the military? Will people join the Space Corps because it somehow requires less math and science than being an astronaut? What exactly will be the requirements for joining? Will they be astronauts, or will they be space cowboys? Will there be a difference? We didn’t really seem to have one in the days of the Mercury program. Will it be all about the cool factor? Are the other nations going to be ok with us taking our recruits for training on the ISS? Will we go back to the moon to establish training facilities there? Is this, perhaps, the weapons platform Reagan wanted, where we can eliminate our enemies from space at the push of a button? Is there a need for conventional war or even for nukes if we can fire a laser from space with the accuracy to pick fleas off a dog’s back? Does terrorism as we know it today have a future with that sort of threat looming overhead? Of course, I can turn this around and ask a bunch of negative questions about safety and freedom, but that’s equally counterproductive. Too many questions, and most of them not that intelligent at this stage in the game. It’s all speculation at this point, and more than that… it’s moot. This is happening. I really want to see a mission statement like those of the other branches of service. I want to get an idea of the long game so I’m not left scratching my head and thinking this is some kind of Trump-era joke that landed wrong. My gut tells me this has potential. Potential for what, though? That’s the real question.