President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the military called the Space Force. It was proposed last year as part of the budget for the Department of Defense. The Air Force has lobbied against a Space Force, and Congress hasn’t authorized it.
A DOD report in March said that “space has become a warfighting domain.” Right now, for example, the military has its eyes on Russian or Chinese missiles and whether they could cripple telecommunications satellites. The DOD is expected to send a report to Congress on the structure of the Space Force by August.
Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with Kimberly Adams, a reporter in our Washington bureau and our resident space expert, about what exactly Trump’s directive means. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kimberly Adams: Congress actually controls who gets money for things. So the president can say, yes, set up a Space Force, but until Congress decides to fund said Space Force, it doesn’t really exist.
Molly Wood: So let’s say it does move forward — what would it look like, and how much might it cost?
Adams: I mean, you already have tens of billions of dollars being spent by the Air Force on space-related things. It’s unclear how much something like this would cost, because we don’t even know what it will look like. Would it just be a couple of small teams working on issues like orbital debris and spy satellites and maybe, way down the road, the development of military weapons in space? Or are we talking about training up the next generation of astronauts, an Air Force Academy or West Point-style military school, in which case that’s a big infrastructure project. So it really depends. You can’t really put a price tag on it when we don’t know what it would look like.
Wood: What would that mean globally? I mean, as far as I know, no other country has an official space branch of the military. Could it kickstart militarization of space in other countries, too?
Adams: There is already a huge amount of space infrastructure that is being used for military purposes. But in terms of other countries stepping into this space — in any technology race, whether it be in space or in the development of missiles or guns or even artificial intelligence, where one country goes, other countries tend to follow.
Wood: So what is the symbolism of applying that kind of mentality to space?
Adams: It’s funny. The president actually mentioned that in his speech. He said this move to create a Space Force would be great for the American psyche and inspire a whole new generation of scientists and researchers and people wanting to be astronauts. And if you think about when you and I were little, and you want to grow up and be an astronaut, you by default say, “Oh, I want to go up and be an astronaut for NASA.” But now there is this opening of so many other venues of being involved in space than there used to be. It used to be just NASA. And in many ways, this type of move is a continuation of the expansion of opportunities available in space.
Wood: Some of the immediate response to this was, I mean, this is not “Starship Troopers.” This is not about recruiting for an awesome legion of space-going warriors, but it’s just hard not to go that way in your brain, right?
Adams: Yeah, but at the same time, this is important. This is going to become an increasing part of our lives and future generations, and decisions like this that may seem superficial right now are probably going to be pretty meaningful down the road.
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