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02/17/2018 / By David Williams
Does the U.S. military need to have a branch that’s dedicated to space? That’s right, there is an idea floating around that the military should have its very own “space corps” that’s just a subdivision of the military itself, operating as entirely separate from the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA). Its focus could be on training space warriors which, thanks to special training, should be sufficiently distinguishable from normal air force pilots.
Former astronaut Terry Virts seems to think so. At least, he said so in an interview with Space News, where he openly states that it’s a fairly obvious idea. “It’s such a no brainer,” he said. “Space, air, cyber, those are truly different domains.”
And why exactly should the military expend any effort on building a so-called space corps, which requires training otherwise highly capable individuals from the army, navy, or air force? According to Virts, it’s because space has now become a “battlefront” in a much broader competition among currently dominant world powers, and that this makes it more of an imperative to give space-centric forces a bigger voice.
But more importantly, according to Virts, space needs dedicated and highly-trained professionals at the helm of every mission. “The bottom line is that you don’t want truck drivers driving boats. And you don’t want pilots flying spaceships,” he said. “Would you want the Army approving aircraft carrier designs?”
While it’s true that there are many skillful aircraft pilots in active duty, the truth is that they are hardly suited for the job of flying spacecrafts. According to Virts, the kind of person who learns how to fly an airplane and drop bombs is different than one who learns to fly spaceships. Being part of space operations would demand certain unique skills, such as understanding planetary orbits and calibrating sensors accordingly. It’s not like flying F-16s, according to Virts, and that’s where the main difference between jet pilots and space guys tend to materialize.
According to Todd Harrison, a defense and space analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the push for the creation of a United States space corps has been around for almost a decade now, since it first started gaining traction back in the year 2001. It was in that year that former Congressman Donald Rumsfeld’s Space Commission Report came out, where he concluded that it was necessary to “get on a path to transition to an independent service for space if not an independent department for space.”
Since it’s undoubtedly going to be an enormous undertaking, Harrison suggests starting right away. Based on a reasonable timeline, he said, the transition could take about five years to complete. It could be a little more, or a little less, depending on how aggressive the plan to move forward is.
It’s also important to note that building an actual, fully-working spacecraft is markedly different from building conventional airplanes. That’s just one more thing that makes it extremely important for individuals to have specialized training that will allow them to cope with their space-related piloting and survival skills.
Heather Wilson, the Air Force Secretary, said that the service is already planning to implement changes that Congress has already approved in the National Defense Authorization Act. “We will comply with the law, but there are a lot of different ways to do it,” she said. “The Air Force still has to do planning, strategy, and budgeting for 80 percent of the military’s space enterprise,” she said. She followed this up by saying that work is definitely still there, and that it’s just a question of execution.
Learn more about the latest efforts to reach space in Space.news.