Why We Shouldn't Be Ridiculing the Idea of a Space Force

Official White House Photo by Delano Scott
The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of snarky commentary and sarcastic one-liners regarding President Trump’s recent calls for the military to develop a “Space Force”. Admittedly, I’ve been one of those people providing the sarcasm. After all, the very term itself does seem pretty funny. It calls to mind images of cheesy 1950’s sci-fi B-movies where the astronauts wear shiny space suits and land on planets inhabited exclusively by horny, curvaceous women covered in green paint.

Of course it sounds ridiculous and that is exactly how the media and many of us have been treating the idea. “Ridiculous” is often thought to be Trump’s middle name.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to turn up our noses at the idea. In fact, in then next 1o to 20 years we may be hailing Trump as a visionary in the vein of John F. Kennedy, who also saw the need to dominate in the space race.

I recently heard someone ask the question, “What do you think will happen to the American flag that resides on the moon when the Chinese finally get there?”. Quite involuntarily a tiny gasp escaped by throat. I hadn’t really ever pondered that. However, when you pause to consider that we haven’t really been trying to get back to the moon since the final Apollo mission it is entirely reasonable that eventually some other nation will figure out how to get there and if it is a hostile nation like China they absolutely will remove our flag and likely claim ownership…which brings up a much deeper question.

Who owns the moon?

You may laugh and say, “No one! The moon is not ours to own!” but that would be an ignorant response, since the entirety of human history centers around nationhood and staking claims to lands and physical boundaries. We like to glamorize pre-Columbus Native American tribes as peaceful and harmonious but the truth is that while they did not have the same concept of land “ownership” as their European conquerers, they did constantly war over tribal boundaries and who had the right to harvest and hunt what areas.

Land ownership is as native to human existence as community.

Here on Planet Earth, we’re not really “discovering” new lands anymore – although China has been creating their own land to claim, quite cleverly. We don’t typically discuss  land rights in terms of exploration anymore, but if we were looking back to a time when the earth was still sorting out nations and empires the general rule was that if your flag is there, you own it. Boundaries and borders were then decided by negotiations or armed conflict.

It is important to keep this in mind because as we reach out further and further into space, we most certainly will come up against issues of land ownership and mineral rights. Already NASA scientists are positing that Titan – one of Saturn’s moons – may contain 100 times more oil than right here on our own planet. As things stand today, that’s a pretty valuable reserve. We might not be anywhere near getting to Titan and figuring out how to mine that treasure but given how quickly technology moves these days it is grossly naive to think we won’t figure that out sooner rather than later.

And what about Mars? Technically America has already arrived on the Red Planet and NASA is making very real plans to establish a scientific outpost there at some point. Elon Musk has already launched a Tesla vehicle into outer space with the intention of sending it to Mars. Will Elon Musk own the land his Tesla touches down upon? Will America own the land where NASA’s scientific outpost might be set up one day?

It is easy to scoff at such notions but it’s childishly unrealistic to imagine the next evolution in human exploration being some sort of Star Trek “United Federation of Planets” fantasy where we all just eschew our nation’s boundaries once we get to space. It’s one thing for a few people from different nations on the International Space Station to live and work together – it’s quite another for entire nations to work out how they share resources from yet-undiscovered lands…particularly when many of those nations vying for the power those resources hold are communist regimes and dictatorships.

It’s not all hunky-dory on Earth. Why do we suppose traveling into space would be any different?

Take the moon, for instance. It might not hold many resources (that we know of) but it is an extremely valuable stake of land when you consider that it could (and most likely will) be used as an outpost from which deep space missions can be launched. Do you think China or Russia would be just fine with sharing a launchpad in a strategically superior lunar location?

I don’t.

No, Trump is not a lunatic (pun intended) for desiring the creation of a Space Force. He is looking ahead to some very serious issues that will almost assuredly arise from venturing out into the unknown reaches of space and trying to settle there.

We may one day leave Planet Earth behind, but we will never escape the realities of our humanity.