President Trump’s announcement that he wants to establish a “Space Force” similar to the U.S. Air Force has generated some excitement.
Among the skeptics, though, there is a joke circulating the the people most excited about the space force are those who don’t believe in science. I can’t claim credit for this joke, but it’s a good one. And in reality, it has something to say about this proposal.
The space force concept is actually something that has circulated for some time among policy-makers. The problem is that our space program is split into a number of entities. Of course there’s NASA, but even beyond that, the Army, Navy and Air Force all have military space programs. That’s not even counting the intelligence services such as CIA and NSA. The result is a lack of coordination and, at least in theory, duplicate efforts.
What’s more is that this idea is not unprecedented. Back in the 1970s, President Carter established the Department of Energy in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo. Many of us have memories of Carter putting solar panels on the White House roof, urging people to lower their thermostats, and lowering the speed limit, all with the aim of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. As a result, there is this perception that the Department of Energy deals with oil exploration and production as well as efficiency efforts.
In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Ironically, now Secretary of Energy Rick Perry up until recently shared this misconception, and he was quite surprised after he was appointed to the Cabinet position to find out what the Department actually does. In fact, when he was running for President in 2012, he called for the department to be abolished. It was quite embarrassing during a debate when he could not remember the name of the department he now heads.
Anyway, Perry now believes the department is essential. And he has good reason to. The real job of the Department of Energy is the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. At one point, that responsibility was split between the different branches of the military. Establishing this department put the entire effort under one roof.
Doing something similar with our scattered space forces makes sense, in theory. After all, the Department of Energy has…