Politicians in Congress heard them. Between 1926 and 1933, lawmakers introduced 29 unsuccessful bills that sought to grant air operations more freedom outside of the Army, according to Jeffery S. Underwood’s The Wings of Democracy: The Influence of Air Power on the Roosevelt Administration. Their wish came true in 1947, when the National Security Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman, reorganized much of the country’s war infrastructure and funneled all air operations into a stand-alone division.
Like the Air Force, a Space Force would require action by Congress to exist. “One would assume that’s how [Trump] would ordinarily handle it,” Wolf said. But “this is no ordinary president. So you can’t say that’s how it will happen, but that’s how it has happened in the past.”
The concept of an armed service dedicated to space first emerged in earnest in 2000, as a recommendation from a military-reform commission led by Donald Rumsfeld, but was quickly forgotten after 9/11. It reappeared in earnest last June, when House lawmakers proposed legislation that would direct the Defense Department to create a “space corps” as a new military service inside the Air Force. The proposed agency would absorb the responsibilities of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, a unit inside the Air Force that supports most of the country’s military operations in space. “The military has not done a good enough job looking after space with all its other distracting priorities,” Representative Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, argued at the time.
The Pentagon groaned in response. “The Pentagon is complicated enough,” Heather Wilson, the Air Force secretary, told reporters. “This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart, and cost more money. If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy.”
The House measure to create a space corps eventually failed, though the bill’s supporters remain optimistic—especially because of Trump’s support. Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have stayed mum about the idea, wary of publicly disagreeing with their commander-in-chief. The more Trump talked about an American space force, the further they have retreated.
Trump’s remarks on Monday garnered a fair share of ridicule on social media from people for whom the sound of “space force” invokes lightsabers and other Star Wars things I don’t know about because I haven’t seen all the movies. But the space around Earth, a place swimming with satellites, can host conflict like any other place humans have inhabited, especially as technology evolves. Humans couldn’t fathom fighting wars in the sky until they took flight, after all. Perhaps in another 70 years, the thought of space-force cadets flying above Earth, patrolling the darkness and dodging satellites, won’t seem so far-fetched.