As the outcry over the situation at the border swelled to a deafening pitch Monday morning, President’s Trump’s mind was elsewhere. In fact, it wasn’t even within Earth’s atmosphere, where it would have been bound by pesky forces like gravity and reality. While contemplating the infinite frontier during a meeting with the National Space Council, the president announced the creation of the “Space Force,” a new branch of the military that will be tasked with handling extraterrestrial affairs. “I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Trump said.
Though NASA operates with an annual budget of close to $20 billion, merely understanding and exploring space is not enough for President Trump – he wants to dominate it. “Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security,” he said.
Trump first floated the idea of a Space Force back in March while speaking to the military in California. “Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea. We may even have a space force,” he said after ensuring that America “wouldn’t even be thinking about” going to Mars if Hillary Clinton had won the election. Trump brought it up again later that month while addressing the West Point football team at the White House. “You will be part of the five proud branches of the United States Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and the Coast Guard. And we’re actually thinking of a sixth, and that would be the Space Force,” Trump said. “You probably haven’t even heard that,” he added. “I’m just telling you now. We’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons, and we are seriously thinking of the Space Force.”
The idea of a Space Force is brings to mind a plan approved by the House of Representatives last summer to create a “Space Corps” that would be overseen by the Air Force. The proposal was met with criticism from the Pentagon, the Air Force and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting efforts,” Mattis wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.
Those in favor of creating a new, space-focused branch of the military have cited concerns that China and Russia are outpacing the United States in terms of military advancement beyond the atmosphere. The proposal would have required the creation of a military branch to “fight and win wars in space” by January 1st, 2019, but it was ultimately cut from the National Defense Authorization Act.
Though the Space Corps would have operated within the Air Force, Trump on Monday seemed to suggest the Space Force could act independently. “We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” he said while echoing concerns over the progress being made by America’s adversaries. “So important for our psyche,” he said of the space program. “We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us.”
Trump also continued to tout the prospect of a mission to Mars, which he is more than happy to leave in the hands of the Elon Musks of the world – or at least of America.
Trump says a mission to Mars will happen “very quickly,” possibly because “rich guys” like rockets. “As long as it’s an American rich person, that’s good. They can beat us,” he says. “We’ll save a little money and they can beat us and we’re takin’ full credit.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 18, 2018
Last December, Trump signed White House Space Policy Directive 1, which called for the United States to work with the private sector in an effort to put more men on the moon and, eventually, Mars. “The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said at the time. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints – we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”
In May, Trump signed White House Space Policy Directive 2, which reformed “America’s commercial space regulatory framework.” White House Space Policy Directive 3, which focuses on managing space traffic and handling debris, was signed Monday. While signing the directive was expected, the announcement of the creation of the Space Force was not, and it’s still unclear how or when this new military branch will be assembled, who it will be managed by or what its objectives will be. What we do know is that Trump loves the idea of going boldly where no nation has gone before. “There’s no place like space,” the president said.