Space Force has a serious problem.
The fact that there is a Netflix comedy series, “Space Force”, released on Friday’s lampooning of the US military’s newest branch, is not the best sign that the American public is taking its intended mission seriously.
Initiated with great hope by President Donald Trump with an executive order on June 18, 2018, the space force came with a grand vision. “Not only is there an American presence in space,” Trump then said, “We must have American dominance in space.”
Eighteen months later, the space force was officially established under the Air Force with the mandate to do good at the presidential election. Still in the development stage, the new service has since struggled with an image problem ̵
“The idea of a space force was presented about two years ago now and there has been a lot of misunderstanding of what this is,” said Jack Burns, professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“What it is not is Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise fighting the Klingons, or Luke Skywalker fighting against Darth Vader – in fact, it will probably involve very few military people in space, “said Burns, who served as the 2016-2017 NASA transition team presidential election.” It’s more, as I understand it, to improve our defensive stance with better satellites that handle hypermissiles in the atmosphere, a lot of software development, a lot of remote sensors.
“All that, according to the experts, lies behind where it must be given the progress both the Russians and the Chinese have made.”
“It’s a very different space force than the public’s perception.”
The first season of 10 episodes of “Space Force” reunites showrunner Greg Daniels with his star from “The Office,” Steve Carell, who plays four-star General Mark Naird, head of the title branch. Co-starring John Malkovich, Jimmy O. Yang, Tawny Newsome and Jane Lynch, the series revolves around the current political landscape – with stand-ins for Trump, Anthony Scaramucci (former White House communications director) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN. Y., as the butt of the joke.
“POTUS wants complete space dominance,” says the fictional defense secretary at one point during the first section. “Boots on the moon in 2024. Actually, he said b-bs on the moon, but we think it’s a typo.”
As close as the first half of that dialogue hints to the president’s promising June 2018 return of US astronauts to the moon, “Space Force” is nowhere near a documentary. The fictional space force was filmed without incorporating the input from the real one.
“We welcome the opportunity to discuss providing support upon request,” said U.S. Air Force Maj William Russell, a spokesman for the space force, via email. “Any program that opens a conversation about the ongoing, vital national defense mission performed by the U.S. Space Force is a valuable endeavor.”
How worthy of a pursuit the military will find in the new show is a question. Beyond the job, there is little resemblance between Carell’s bumbling character and the excellent four-star general who sits behind the real desk, General John W. “Jay” Raymond. And a section with a trained chimpanzee who is forced to take a space walk to fix a satellite sabotaged by the Chinese makes a monkey of what the real space force is trying to accomplish.
But what exactly is the space force trying to achieve, even if it is tangled with memes, jokes from social media and sitcoms?
“Our opponents and competitors continue to threaten American interests and jeopardize international security with new weapons and tactics,” Russell said. “In April, the Iranians launched their first military satellite into Earth’s orbit, while Russia recently conducted an anti-satellite test.
“These are real examples of how the threats to American and Allied space systems are real, serious and growing.”
However, the real message is not supported by the hyperbole raised on the space force by the president, who announced the development of a “superdupermissile” during a Space Force flag ceremony earlier this month. Lost in the superlatives is that the nuclear mission, to protect US assets, including vulnerable communications and GPS satellites, has been a priority for successive administrations and the Ministry of Defense for decades.
However, critics are debating whether it required a sixth branch of the military with starting costs probably up to $ 4.7 billion, according to the Independent Congressional Budget Office.
“Space is not a partisan issue, it’s a President Trump issue,” said Brian Weeden, director of programming for the Secure World Foundation, a private organization dedicated to studying sustainability in space. “The debate over how best to organize the United States military for space activities has been going on for decades and it is generally not a partisan discussion.
“I think the challenge comes through President Trump campaigning for this, he has made it a feature of his rally,” Weeden said. “So he has closely tied the issue of space power to his personal political success.”
Weeden points to the parallels to the controversial debate over Ronald Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an expensive space-based missile defense system called “Star Wars” by its deterrents.
“People were really confused at that time,” Burns said. “Even the technology that suggested was far beyond our ability. At that time, there was no way you could provide a shield that could protect 100 percent from nuclear weapons.”
The technology has improved with light years since; the political debate about whether it is worth the cost is not the same.
Which makes the current space race a final frontier for comedy writers, just as a previous generation found humor in the spectrum of Cold War annihilation with the 1964 satire, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” And Daniels and The authors are careful to at least sometimes produce the fictional “Spacemen” as dedicated and competent as their 16,000 counterparts off screen.
“Space is an event space right now, from the entertainment industry, to popular culture and the halls of the Pentagon,” Russell said. “Hopefully, this comedy will encourage people to learn about the serious operations of the real US space force.”