President Trump announced on Monday morning that he would direct the Department of Defense and Pentagon to create a “Space Force,” which would constitute a sixth branch of the armed forces.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force — separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important,” Trump said at the third meeting of the National Space Council.
Trump’s deeply strange nod to racial-segregation policies was likely (though not definitely) unintentional.
“We will establish a long-term presence, expand our economy, and build the foundation for the eventual mission to Mars — which is actually going to happen very quickly,” Trump said. “And, you know, I’ve always said that rich guys seem to like rockets. So all of those rich guys that are dying for our real estate to launch their rockets, we won’t charge you too much. Just go ahead. If you beat us to Mars, we’ll be very happy and you’ll be even more famous.”
Trump had initially endorsed the idea of a Space Force in March, proclaiming, in a bit of Reagan-esque rhetoric, that “space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea.”
The new branch would be overseen by the Air Force, much the way that the Marine Corps is governed by the Navy.
The idea does not seem to have originated with Trump. Last year, the House Armed Services Committee proposed the creation of a “space corps” in the National Defense Authorization Act it passed. The idea drew strong opposition from the Pentagon. Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote in a letter, “At a time when we are trying to integrate the Department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.”
In the end, the proposal was dropped from the final bill. There’s no indication that Mattis has changed his tune this time around.
Trump’s Monday announcement appeared to come as a surprise; most of the National Space Council meeting centered around cooperation between the federal government and private industry, specifically concerning where private companies can launch spacecraft so as not to collide with satellites and space debris.