Ever since the United States Space Force became a reality, there has been a great deal of controversy about it and what it aims to achieve. Things didn’t exactly help when the administration that launched it never particularly gave a clear prospectus for it.
Some might blame it on the fact that the previous administration was unable to serve two terms, thus cutting short its ability to possibly live out its agenda for the Space Force. Others might believe that the Space Force was never actually top on the administration’s priority list in the first place, and it simply was a distraction.
A Clear Objective
Whatever it is, the Space Force has had several setbacks in its first two years. However, the Biden administration is sticking with it for now. In February, White House Communications Director Jen Psaki confirmed that the administration planned to keep the Space Force, especially since it planned to support NASA and its missions as well.
Now that the Space Force is no longer a farce, it is worth understanding how its operation will hold going forward. For inquisitive fans, one of the primary ways that this military arm will operate is through a collaboration with NASA.
Last year, it was confirmed that the Space Force would band together with NASA to secure the future of human spaceflight. With the latter moving forward with its Artemis program that aims to return humans to the moon by 2024, John Raymond, the Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the agencies.
In a statement, NASA explained that the two agencies will collaborate concerning several areas. These include space transportation, scientific research, U.S. space policy, the best practices for safe operations in space, and planetary defense.
As the MoU explained, the agencies agreed to affirm a strong interest in partnering and ensuring a mutually beneficial set of activities. All of these will be geared towards security, discovery, and space exploration.
The partnership is pretty simple - NASA will focus on the science and technology that governs space exploration, while the Space Force provides security. With the two operating in the same environment and sharing similar objectives, there are several opportunities to overlap.
"NASA and the military share a long history dating back to the late 1950s; there is power in our partnership. A secure, stable, and accessible space domain underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement. Space Force looks forward to future collaboration, as NASA pushes farther into the universe for the benefit of all. In the case of NASA, it's way more than just sharing data ... we sit on the floor together, we do the analytical work together, it's a partnership that is really, really tight," Raymond said in the statement.
Drawing a Fine Line
The agreement between the two replaces one that was instituted years ago between NASA and the Space Command of the Air Force. That agreement made for overlaps between the Air Force and NASA, although it was less than perfect.
For instance, the first astronauts were military pilots. Even to this day, many astronauts come from the Air Force. NASA has also launched classified payloads; not at Kennedy Space Center, but Edwards Air Force Base. However, while the Space Program has been military in its nature from the beginning, there is a deeper need for more seamless collaboration between NASA and the military.
This is especially significant as NASA now seeks to engage in collaborations and joint missions with other countries. Many believe that NASA could act as a diplomacy tool from the U.S. government to promote “good behavior” in space, and it could achieve that by getting international partners to work with it on Artemis. If the other countries see that NASA seems too interwoven with the U.S. military, they might have second thoughts about joining the Artemis program.
However, programs like Artemis - as well as the increasing frequency of commercial and private activity in space - could provide the need for a more robust military presence to ensure peace and protection. Enforcing that good behavior is one of the primary functions of the NASA-Space Force collaboration, and it seems to be logical at the very least.
A Growing Need for Security
The partnership also comes at a time when the United States might be facing challenges to its supremacy in space. China is already working on its space station, essentially allowing the country - America’s biggest economic rival - to have its autonomy in space matters. There are also reports that the Russian government is looking to break away and make its space station.
Russia is one of the United States’ primary partners on the International Space Station (ISS). However, breaking away could mean that the country will be able to operate in space without being tethered to the United States in any way.
If these countries begin pursuing their agendas, there will be no leverage for the United States to exploit. At that point, a military presence will be necessary to prevent any escalations - and, if these escalations do arise, preserve the interests of the United States.
More and more, the Space Force is beginning to find usefulness in the United States agenda. Not bad for an agency that had to overcome a flurry of jokes and memes when it began operating.