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President Donald Trump has just ordered the Pentagon to immediately start setting up a sixth branch of our military: the space force. I wonder where he got that idea from? This makes perfect sense of course, because I think we can all agree that we just don’t have enough people whose job it is to murder other people. Right now, we only have the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the Coast Guard, which all together have about 1.4 million people in them (plus more than a million more on call) and cost taxpayers $441.6 billion, the most expensive in the world. And with Trump regularly picking fights with our long-term opponents like, um, Canada, clearly we’re going to need some more firepower.
Trump says that the Space Force will be responsible for cementing our national identity in space, which is important because in space no one can hear you scream lies about how great America is. He also says that it’ll be necessary for security, because we all know that you can’t get billions of dollars in taxes without scaring people.
Of course, Trump is right to think that our safety is at risk from threats from space — not from Independence Day-style aliens, of course, but from giant fucking rocks currently hurdling towards us. It’s not something that might happen one day — it will happen. One day, an asteroid will collide with the Earth and the results will be very, very bad for us and any other large creatures who enjoy having air to breathe and food to eat. It happened before — remember the dinosaurs? And it’s going to happen again.
The only way that it won’t happen is if we (humanity) get our shit together in several ways: we first have to get way better at detecting near-Earth objects, which are things like asteroids that zing by us, closer to Earth than the distance from us to the moon. We know about thousands of them, and log more each week, but we’re still missing out on a good 75% of them. We need to have a net of satellites that can identify these objects long before they become a problem.
The next step is coming up with a way to alter the course of these objects. Once we know they’re on a collision course with Earth, we may be able to blow them up (ooh, weapons!) or nudge them out of the way. The earlier we can see them, the less we have to nudge them to make sure they don’t murder us.
“But Rebecca,” you may be thinking, “surely that’s a job that Space Force can handle!” That would be nice, if we didn’t already have an administration specifically set up to deal with threats like that. It’s called NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and for most of its existence it had a budget of only $4 million, until President Obama bumped it up considerably in the hopes of funding a human mission to an asteroid, and its current budget is $50 million. Still, that’s $50 million compared to a single Air Force missile-detecting satellite that costs $1.5 billion. The Air Force’s space budget for the next five years is $44.3 billion. That’s right, the Air Force already has a space wing called Air Force Space Command and while I hate the military in general I do have to say that their logo is fucking awesome. According to the Air Force secretary, the Air Force’s space funds are “to be able to deter, defend and prevail against anyone who seeks to deny our ability to freely operate in space.”
I freely admit that I don’t have access to classified documents that may reveal that, say, Canada is planning to somehow stop the US from existing in space. But I do have access to information that says we are currently being bombed with tons of material from space, and it’s not coming from any evil empire here on Earth. Obviously we need to protect our satellites, and yes, I would love a little early warning if North Korea decides to launch some janky-ass, refurbished nuclear missile in our direction. Also, if I were forced to join a branch of the military obviously I would want it to be called SPACE FORCE. I’m human after all. I grew up with Voltron.
But at the end of the day we need to recognize the fact that our administration is giving peanuts to a program that can actually save all life on Earth, in favor of sending the military to space, a place with absolutely no credible military threats incoming. This isn’t a Heinlein novel. If we’re going to invest billions of dollars into space, let’s do it intelligently.