By Dominic Tanzillo
With the announcement of the U.S. Space Force military branch, my generation, Gen Z, was spared from reliving the jaded optimism of the 1970s-era space culture. It also saved us from a dystopian future of privatized international space stations serving as ultra-luxury resorts for a select few to escape the asphyxiating blanket of communications and advertising satellites in our night sky — a dismal reminder of corporate control and the selling out of the future of humankind for a materialist present.
Space Force will ensure an accessible future in space. While NASA has its roots in the United States Air Force, like many of the modern space companies, the agency recruits from a very narrow band of college-educated engineers and scientists. Military endeavors have always drawn from and inherited a working class character. In directing military attention beyond Earth’s atmosphere, we take outer space from the category of fantasy to one of real possibility. The tagline in Space Force advertisements states: “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.” This message from the newest branch of the Armed Forces shows an understanding that Space Force can render space real for people who might have considered it impossible.
Although the Apollo Program successfully placed Americans on the moon over 50 years ago, outer space remains in the category of science fiction. The biggest detriment to selling a future among the cosmos is the impossibility of space. Aside from exceptional engineers, science researchers, and business mogul investors, space is not accessible.
Even for those drawn to the field, a hope of contributing to the human space flight project cannot overcome the overwhelming financial motives to enter careers in medical engineering, Silicon Valley social media tech, or financial investing sectors for STEM graduates. As someone with one foot in the world of mathematics, the massive salaries in the quantitative finance world are always tempting.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the Space Force will be the personnel and economic assurance promised by a military project. In 2019, defense spending was $676 billion, or 15% of the federal budget, and more than half of discretionary spending. NASA on the other hand, received $21.5 billion in 2019, only 0.47% of the federal budget. Potential future austerity measures could postpone a crewed mission to Mars indefinitely by limiting both new hires and engineering and medical research. While remaining overwhelming popular with the public, space funding is not especially imperative. In partisan times, America’s military remains a uniting factor and many veterans represent us in Congress. The founding of Space Force as a separate entity makes the dream of space harder to defund by ensuring longitudinal investment in the technologies and people that make access to space possible.
What’s more, being the most recent military branch, it can lead the way in improving representation of our armed services. The people involved in this next phase of exploration will not just be the celebrity scientists, but our brothers and sisters in arms. Space Force will grow and people will know of a son, daughter, or neighbor involved in the project, normalizing and democratizing interest in space beyond cities with economies invested in the industry.
Perhaps then, and especially for the people in aerospace, we owe Space Force a little more respect than afforded to it by Netflix’s latest sitcom. Beyond protecting our satellites and assets in space, it may render space real and attainable for everyone. Let us then grow our newfound military partnership while continuing to advocate for space funding and extending humanity’s reach into space.
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