Elon Musk Backs Space Force Proposal

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, seen here speaking at South By Southwest in March, said he supports the idea of a separate Space Force that could also support space exploration activities.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk, seen here speaking at South By Southwest in March, said he supports the idea of a separate Space Force that could also support space exploration activities. (Image credit: SXSW)

LOS ANGELES — SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk says he supports the concept of establishing a separate Space Force , using an argument that mirrors statements made by administration officials.

In an extended interview with the technology site Recode published Nov. 2, Musk drew parallels between the Space Force and the creation of the U.S. Air Force more than 70 years ago.

"Well, this may be a little controversial, but I actually like the idea. I think it's cool," he said. "You know, like, when the Air Force was formed, there was a lot of like pooh-poohing, and like, 'Oh, how silly to have an Air Force!'" [What Is the U.S. Space Force?

Just as the importance of having aircraft run by a standalone service has since become universally accepted, Musk said the same was true for space operations. "And people today may not realize back then it was wildly panned as a ridiculous thing to create the Air Force," he said. "And I think it's gonna become obvious that we should have a Space Force, too."

Musk linked the Space Force to space exploration, an activity traditionally associated with civil agencies like NASA. "You know, it's basically defense in space . And then I think also it could be pretty helpful for maybe expanding our civilization," he said of what he thought the Space Force's mission would be. "You know, expanding things beyond Earth."

"I think we could just have a base on the moon, for example. A base on Mars. Be great to expand on the idea of a Space Force," he continued.

That argument is similar to statements made by advocates of the Space Force within the administration, notably Vice President Mike Pence. The Space Force, he said in at an Oct. 30 event, is "part of the president's vision for really reinvigorating American leadership in space… and once again lead in human exploration."

Those comments have raised concerns by some analysts of blurring lines between civil and military space activities. Others, though, have countered that many members of the general public don’t understand current military activities, “so the appeal towards exploration and commercial endeavors puts it in terms they understand,” said Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.

Stephen Kitay, the current deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, didn’t link exploration to Space Force, but agreed in comments at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium Oct. 25 that the public doesn’t appreciate the Pentagon's role in space

"There is a lot of misinformation out there and it can be the butt of late-night jokes," he said of the Space Force. "The fact of the matter is, I think, that people don't necessarily understand what we're talking about. They don't understand how these satellites are critical for national security and our way of life."

Musk acknowledged in the interview that he has not had "detailed conversations" with the Trump administration about its plans for the Space Force and how serious the White House is in implementing it. "But I do think it will become obvious over time that a Space Force is a sensible thing to do."

In the interview, which focused more on his other company, electric car manufacturer Tesla, Musk offered little news on SpaceX's activities. He said SpaceX was "still aiming for 2024" for its first mission to Mars, but said that mission with the company's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) could be without a crew. "I'm not sure if there'll be people onboard or not." Musk had said in a September 2017 speech that the crew crewed missions would fly to Mars 2024, a timeline he admitted at the time was "aspirational."

"Hopefully, there are people on board," he said of the 2024 mission. "But I think there’s a pretty good chance of at least having an unmanned craft go to Mars. I think we will try to do this."

He added he was also considering changing BFR's official name to "Heart of Gold," the spaceship from "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy." BFR has an alternative, R-rated name.

"BFR is, to some degree, a Rorschach test on acronyms," he said. "But officially, it is the Big Falcon Rocket."

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.