The US Space Force Has a Rough Launch on the Internet

The cathedral quickly deleted the tweet, and the Space Force explained that general Raymond had never intended to swear-in all subsequent commanders with the Bible. He was, they said, simply mimicking an Air Force tradition; its first leader had been sworn in on a Bible that has been kept in the Air Force chief of staff’s office ever since, and signed by each of his successors.

To close observers of the military, Raymond’s explanation underscored one of the biggest fears about a new Space Force: That its culture would hew too closely to the Air Force out of which it grew. The Air Force has long been seen as the most Christian of the services; in one 2011 controversy, Air Force Academy cadets reported that they felt that had to pretend to be fundamentalist Christians to fit in at the school.

Hardly a week passed before the nascent Space Force caused more internet ripples. The unveiling of its uniform and camouflage pattern, which looked shockingly similar to the uniforms worn by soldiers and personnel operating on Earth, quickly sent #SpaceForce trending on Twitter. Replies to the tweet quickly filled up with jokes and GIFs mocking how the uniforms wouldn’t help Space Force do battle in outer space.

And then of course came the more existential question: Why did Space Force need a camouflage pattern at all, since none of its personnel would ever actually be fighting out beyond the mesosphere?

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In fact, the Space Force’s choice to use a variation of an Army and Air Force camouflage pattern is a sign of common sense. The internal politics of military camouflage can seem staggering, as can the cost. And while Space Force might invoke Moonraker-like astronauts with laser guns in the popular imagination, in practice it will effectively be young computer wizards sitting in windowless rooms in Colorado Springs and southern California. Making only small tweaks to existing camouflage—Space Force sews its nameplates in dark blue, rather than the black and “spice brown” used by the Army and Air Force, respectively—is both practical and economical.

Yet even before the controversy over the uniforms died down, Space Force was back to trending—and being mocked anew. Most recently, on Friday, as House managers wrapped up their opening statements in his impeachment trial, President Trump tweeted out the new Space Force logo. “After consultation with our Great Military Leaders, designers, and others, I am pleased to present the new logo for the United States Space Force, the Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military,” the president tweeted.

The new image appeared all too familiar to fans of Star Trek, who saw a near-exact copy of the Starfleet logo, right down to the single spaceship, orbit path, and star constellation dazzling the logo’s background. Star Trek’s George Takei, who had also joked online about the uniforms, tweeted, “Ahem. We are expecting some royalties from this.”

Air Force personnel pointed out that the logo appears to be an evolution of that long used by Air Force Space Command. Both clearly invoke the Star Trek logo. And yet the new patch moves markedly closer to that apparent inspiration—which, as internet critics noted, was meant to represent peaceful exploration of outer space.

Ultimately how many people wind up wearing those uniforms and that logo remains an open question, as the size of the Space Force is still very much up in the air. (Pun intended.) Currently, the Air Force’s Space Command comprises about 16,000 personnel, and Pentagon officials have said that they anticipate about 5,000 to 6,000 of those will transfer to the new service initially. Over time, the Pentagon expects other units—not all of them from the Air Force Space Command—might transfer as well, ultimately creating a force of about 15,000, which would be by far the smallest military branch. By comparison, the Coast Guard, technically part of the Department of Homeland Security, is about 40,000 personnel. The Marine Corps, the smallest branch until now, is about 180,000.

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