The United States Space Force’s one-year birthday party—a White House press conference on Friday, December 18—doubled as a christening. Just as the Navy has sailors and the Army has soldiers, some 2,000 members of the United State’s newest branch of the armed forces will be called “Guardians,” Vice President Mike Pence announced.
Officials settled on the title after a “yearlong process,” including a call for “gender-neutral, distinctive and [emphasizing] a future-oriented military force” ideas that were “in good taste.” The moniker immediately prompted jokes about how the grandiose name recalls pop culture mainstays like the Marvel series Guardians of the Galaxy and the video game “Destiny.” But, as the Space Force website clarifies, “Guardians is a name with a long history in space operations, tracing back to the original command motto of the Air Force Space Command [now part of the Space Force] in 1983, ‘Guardians of the High Frontier.’”
On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed that year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which established the Space Force. It’s the first branch of the military to be created in more than 70 years; the Air Force was spun off from the Army in 1947. The Guardians’ futuristic work, however, isn't exactly new to the Pentagon.
“As it exists today, Space Force is mostly a rebrand of Air Force Space Command, but with the authority to make decisions independent from the Air Force,” Ian Carlos Campbell wrote in The Verge.
The Guardians’ big-picture goal, as Tariq Malik and Chelsea Gohd reported for Space.com, is to prevent military clashes in space as well as monitor and guard American spacecraft. These duties include tracking some 26,000 objects and readying the military for what’s known as “orbital warfare,” which is conflict that could impair the satellite systems.
For Air & Space magazine, Joe Pappalardo detailed how the Space Force’s “Aggressors” squadron simulates potential space attacks for different areas of the armed forces, some that are the stuff of sci-fi and others that might be more realistic, like “jammers” that cut off satellite communications or the “anti-satellite weapon” a Russian satellite recently tested.
The territory Space Force covers may be immense, but it is still a tiny organization. This spring, it consisted of literally two members, although the current tally—2,400 Guardians, almost all of whom transferred from the Air Force—is slated to triple by the end of next year, according to Stars and Stripes’ Corey Dickstein. The first astronaut in the service, Mike Hopkins, joined from the Air Force on December 18. Even once fully staffed up, the number of Guardians will be pint-sized in comparison with the enrollment of the five other military branches.
While the men and women of the Space Force now have a title, motto, bases, camouflage uniform (no, it’s not galaxy print) and a crest that looks like a “Star Trek” symbol, Oriana Pawlyk of Military.com reports that other rituals and trappings of a military branch, like a dress uniform and rank structure, remain in the works. Air Force musicians are also busy composing an official song for the Guardians, but unlike the music that accompanies the fictional Guardians of the Galaxy, Space Force's ballad most likely won't be a groovy ‘70s tune.