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18 Jun, 2018 23:08

‘Make it so’? Trump orders creation of US Space Force as military branch

US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to begin establishing a Space Force as the sixth branch of the US military. Creators of Star Wars, Star Trek and Starship Troopers memes rejoiced.

“There’s no place like space,” Trump said on Monday, addressing the National Space Council in Washington. He announced a number of initiatives, including a push to establish a “permanent presence” on the Moon, with an eye to a manned Mars mission. But the biggest one was the creation of a new military branch, to operate in what the president termed “forbidden skies.”

Trump declared that America was “first in flight, first to the Moon,” and “will always be first in space.”

He was unclear on whether that would make the first artificial satellite (Sputnik), the first animal to orbit the Earth (Laika), the first man in orbit (Yuri Gagarin), the first man to walk in space (Alexey Leonov) and the first woman in orbit (Valentina Tereshkova), somehow, retroactively American.

“It is not enough to have American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” Trump declared, calling it a matter of national security. To that end, he has directed General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to begin preparations for making the Space Force a “separate but equal” branch of the US military, alongside the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Some critics couldn’t resist jumping on that phrase, which has unfortunate connotations in the US, having been associated with decades of justifying racial segregation.

Others objected to the Space Force as too expensive and argued that space should be left to scientists.

For most, however, the idea of establishing a Space Force served as the perfect opportunity to post memes associated with science fiction films and TV shows, from Star Wars and Star Trek to Avatar and Starship Troopers.

Even if the Pentagon proceeds to implement Trump’s directive at hyperspeed, there are two obstacles to “make it so” – and overcoming them will be tougher than making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.

One is legal. The Outer Space Treaty, to which the US has been party since 1967, bans states from testing any weapons in outer space, or establishing military bases on the Moon and other celestial bodies. It also prohibits deployment of any weapons of mass destruction in Earth’s orbit. The US has unilaterally withdrawn from treaties before, however, and Trump could just channel Emperor Palpatine and declare, “I will make it legal.”

The more immediate problem, however, is that the Space Force has no ships. The US Space Shuttle program was shut down in 2011. Since then, the only way American astronauts can get into space has been aboard the Russian Soyuz-MS spacecraft. Even if Russia were somehow inclined to offer transportation services to a branch of the US military, US laws prohibit any military cooperation with Moscow.

That leaves Trump with another Sidious solution, to have the Space Force initially composed of droids and drones. As the US president so often says, “let’s see what happens.”

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