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Scifi ranger shooting toward the sky.

“It’s a Trap!” The Pros and Mostly “Khans” of Science Fiction’s Influence on the United States Space Force

Illustrations © James Vaughan, and used by permission. More of his work can be found here: http://www.jamesvaughanphoto.com/

By Wendy Whitman Cobb

 

ABSTRACT

As the United States Space Force has been debated and ultimately stood up, it has often been linked with various science fiction undertakings, most prominently, Star Trek. For the most part, the science fiction connections are not new in the history of space and can be beneficial. Yet being compared to science fiction also presents challenges for the Space Force. This article begins by analyzing both qualitative and quantitative evidence of a science fiction-Space Force link, and finds that this link has been prevalent over the past several years. The space domain is susceptible to science fiction-based influences because of the unknowns that remain with space-based operations. This is even more true with respect to the public’s view of the Space Force. Thus, the leaders of the Space Force are forced to address the cognitive dissonance between what the public expects and what the Space Force can actually achieve in the near- to mid-term. Space Force leaders should therefore focus on “de-science fictionalizing” to draw a distinction between imagined futures and strategic challenges of today.

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The adoption of either air/ground ranks or maritime ranks has figured prominently in the debate about the United States Space Force (USSF). This has played out in numerous op-ed pages, the social media accounts of prominent leaders, and even in the National Defense Authorization Act. In August 2020, none other than Captain James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner, expressed his opinion in Military Times beginning with the question “What the heck is wrong with you?”[1] Shatner argues for the adoption of Naval ranks and provides as evidence examples solely from popular culture and science fiction. Not only does Shatner note the prevalence of captains of space missions in movies as varied as Le Voyage Dans La Lune to Alien and even the Marvel cinematic universe, but he also contends that when Army ranks are used (“colonels in particular”), their portrayals in science fiction have been poor and inept. He concludes, “I’m going to say that if you want the public to believe in heroes, that you should adopt the Navy ranks as they are the ones the public is most used to being heroes.”[2] Shatner’s invocation of science fiction to justify military policy, in this case rank in the USSF, is not unique. In addition to outlining this relationship, this article argues that science fiction’s influence on the USSF is creating cognitive dissonance between what the public, and many leaders, believe the Space Force should be and what it needs to be doing today.

Looking back to 1966, when Shatner, playing the role of Captain Kirk, first sat on the “bridge” of the U.S.S. Enterprise as the starship was depicted in the 23rd century, the world only dreamt of the future that is being built today. From SpaceX’s Dragon and Starship to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s efforts to return to the Moon and travel to Mars, Star Trek does not seem so far away anymore. There is no denying that science fiction triggers an interest in science and technology that helps drive innovative breakthroughs as well as inspires the next generation of space explorers.[3] Star Trek and other science fiction worlds are imprinted into America’s social DNA. And for a moment, Shatner’s tweet and the social media frenzy it created brought back memories of the campaign mounted to have President Gerald Ford rename the OV-101 space shuttle as Enterprise.[4]

Still, Shatner’s key points have little to do with the adoption of a particular rank structure. First, his references to science fiction and pop culture icons are not unique; as the USSF was first debated and now as it is being organized, science fiction has often been invoked to support particular missions or forms of organization.[5] Second, and perhaps more importantly, Shatner highlights the role and importance of public perceptions of the Space Force and just how those opinions are shaped and reinforced by science fiction tropes. The public is only used to the term “captain” in the context of space because it has most often been used in the films, movies, and literature they have seen. While this might indeed be the case, the public’s familiarity with a label should not be the sole argument on which to base a rank structure.

This article provides insights into the relationship between science fiction and the new United States Space Force, rather than continue to contribute to the debate over ranks.[6] It first quantitatively and qualitatively identifies the prevalence of the science fiction and USSF link by examining the debate around the USSF and analyzing Google Trends data. Second, the article continues by reviewing why issues surrounding space, including warfare and the USSF, are so susceptible to science fiction influence. In doing so, it builds on previous literature that has also identified pop culture influence on international relations and public policy, as well as the potential for fiction in general to influence policy attitudes. Finally, while recognizing the positive aspects of this influence, the article highlights several potential negative consequences of the science fiction influence. These include increasing cognitive dissonance between expectations for space and the realities of space today and creating a strategic disconnect in terms of U.S. plans moving forward in the space domain. Finally, in recognizing and understanding the dynamics of the science fiction and USSF relationship, the article concludes with several recommendations for the USSF to help protect against these potential negative externalities.

The Space Force’s Science Fiction Beginnings

From the beginning of the space era in the 20th century, space policy has been influenced by science fiction depictions of space. Not only did leaders like Werhner von Braun and John F. Kennedy consume science fiction, but many like von Braun used science fiction to promote space exploration.[7] Scholars have repeatedly demonstrated the deep link between science fiction and space. For instance, Bryony Slaughter shows how science fiction influenced early U.S. military space policy while Bruce Franklin details a similar relationship between science fiction and nuclear weaponry including Ronald Reagan’s Space Defense Initiative.[8]

This linkage has continued as the debate over an independent Space Force erupted over the past several years. Daniel Deudney pointedly argues that “[p]retty much everything space expansionists [of which Space Force advocates are a part] propose was first imagined in science fiction.[9] While the science fiction field is indeed varied, comprising literature, movies, television, and comics, among other mediums, much of the musings about science fiction and the Space Force revolve around the extended universe of Star Trek.

As fans of the television series turned multimedia empire well know, Star Trek depicts the travels and adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew as it embarks on a quasi-military exploration of the universe. Along the way, it encounters strange life, protects commerce, and battles those entities which would seek to attack the United Federation of Planets. Given the varied role that the Enterprise and the Starfleet to which it belongs plays, many supporters of the Space Force have embraced this model as the service begins to establish its own mission, role, and culture.

We can see this Star Trek/Space Force link in various opinion pieces that have been published in support of the new service. Mark Whittington argues that the tasks of the Space Force should not be all that dissimilar from Starfleet, writing “[t]he Space Force will be not only a war-fighting service, but also a rescue organization, a peace-keeping force and even a space debris collection group. It may eventually take over space exploration duties from NASA or have the entire space agency folded into it.”[10] In another opinion piece, Whittington references other science fiction hallmarks like the works of Gerard K. O’Neill.[11] Darren Orf, writing in Popular Mechanics, has argued that the Space Force should “boldly embrace” the Star Trek-like mission.[12]

Science fiction and Star Trek continue to influence debates about the make-up of the Space Force. At both the unveiling of the Space Force’s official logo and service flag, media stories could not help but note the similarities between them and Starfleet’s logo.[13] In December 2020, General Izutsu Shunji of the Japanese Self-Defense Force wished the USSF a happy birthday, invoking “live long and prosper,” the classic Vulcan greeting from Star Trek.[14] In terms of its rank structure, in addition to the essay penned by William Shatner, references to science fiction abound in essays by David Deptula, Brent Ziarnick, Timothy Cox, and Peter Garretson.[15] The Space Force itself has also cheekily joined the Star Trek bandwagon with its Space Operations Commands, or SpOCs, at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Peterson Air Force Base.[16] Finally, the Space Force named the service’s software package the Kobayashi Maru after Star Trek’s no-win scenario training test.[17],[18]

While much of these links between science fiction and the USSF are anecdotal in nature, we can turn to Google Trends for some quantitative assessment. Google Trends provides a look at the volume of searches being performed on the search engine, dating back to 2004. When a user enters a search term or terms, Google will report back on a scale of 1-100 an index indicating search volume over time.[19] There are some obvious issues involved with using Google Trends, but in the absence of other public opinion or awareness indicators, the ubiquity of Google as a search function can give us a rough idea of how often people are associating science fiction the USSF.[20]

Figure 1: Space Force and Star Trek Google Trends, March 2018-November 2020

Taking figure 1 as a whole, there is a low level of correlation between the two trend lines as demonstrated by a Pearson’s r of 0.164. However, there are points in the time series where spikes in searches for “Star Trek” and “space force” clearly coincide, including in early August 2019, January 2019, and January 2020. The first significant increase in searches for “space force” occurred in June 2018 when President Trump, at a meeting of the National Space Council, directed the Department of Defense to create a space force.[21] Though there is not as big of a jump in searches for “Star Trek,” the index does rise from 26 for Star Trek in the week prior to the announcement to 28 in the week of the announcement. This is clearly not as big of an increase as “space force” searches experienced (from 1 to 100), but there were still several news stories that explicitly discussed the possible relationship between the two.[22] In particular, one story from CNET highlighted social media discourse that explicitly linked space force with Star Trek demonstrating a wider societal awareness of the relationship.[23]

In early August of 2018, the Trump administration followed up on earlier proposals to establish a space force by officially announcing its intention to establish the service and stand up U.S. Space Command as a new combatant command.[24] In addition to several analyses[25] that referenced science fiction influences directly, President Trump’s reelection campaign took advantage of the event to float several ideas for a space force logo.[26]

The next bump in Google search frequency occurred in January of 2019 coinciding with Netflix’s announcement of a comedy show called Space Force starring Steve Carrell.[27] This obviously had nothing to do with the USSF nor was there a correlated increase in “Star Trek” searches. Following a year-long lull (which included the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act which officially established the Space Force)[28], in January of 2020, searches for both “space force” and “Star Trek” increased as the logo for the service was unveiled. The vast majority of news coverage noted the uncanny connection between it and Star Trek’s Starfleet logo.[29] For its part, the USSF went to great lengths to emphasize that it did not borrow from the Star Trek cannon, instead drawing inspiration from the seal of the Air Force Space Command. Indeed, the delta symbol that is featured so prominently in both the Starfleet and USSF logos dates back to the 1940s in its military use.[30] Thus, news coverage notwithstanding, the logo is clearly a case of art imitating life and not vice versa.

The final jump in “space force” searches occurred in June 2020 coinciding with the release of Netflix’s Space Force. While there were some news articles that reflect the connection between the fake Space Force and the real USSF,[31] this search surge does indicate the drawbacks to using Google Trends noted above, namely the limited confidence that searches for a particular term actually indicate interest or are indicative of an interest in the subject area we are trying to measure.

While Google Trends can only tell us so much, the data, when combined with the anecdotal references, lend considerable credence to the argument that there is a connection between science fiction and the USSF. To be sure, there are certainly linkages between fiction and the other military services; warfare of all kinds has been portrayed in film, literature, and television shows. Futuristic military fiction has also been key in developing strategic futures. However, science fiction is uniquely poised to directly influence conceptions of conflict in space, particularly because of the unknowns associated with space warfare and the unique nature of science fiction (and fiction in general) to influence individual attitudes and beliefs. For these reasons, the relationship between science fiction and the Space Force is even more obvious but potentially also distracting and unhelpful.

The Power of Science Fiction

Because of its very nature, it may not seem apparent that fiction, let alone science fiction, could influence individual attitudes and beliefs. Fiction is not fact—the narrative or descriptive content comes from imagination.[32] Since the human mind is real, the circumstances and plotlines often resemble instances comparable to the real world.

It is in this resemblance that Star Trek has struck a cultural chord. The original incarnation of the show (“The Original Series” or TOS) arrived not just on the heels of the ongoing space race between the Soviet Union and the United States but during the civil rights movement, the escalation of war in Vietnam, and counterculture protests. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, understood these currents and purposefully portrayed a diverse crew engaged in a primarily peaceful mission of exploration and understanding.[33] From Lieutenant Uhura, played by African American actor Nichelle Nichols, to Lieutenant Sulu, played by Asian American actor George Takei, the viewing public could see enough of themselves in Star Trek’s characters, but still be swept away in the drama and entertainment of the show. Indeed, it was not just the story that has created such a strong following, but the messages inherent in them that has made it a cultural cornerstone.

In this sense, Star Trek and science fiction, like other elements of literature and pop culture, serves as a cultural informant and helps shape society by transmitting social, political, and cultural information and inspiration. In an area like space exploration, this informing function may play a powerful role given that people may not be familiar with space and what makes it unique. Even if consumers have a passing familiarity, as Charli Carpenter notes, science fiction and popular culture can “prime” individuals to think in particular ways about things like robots and space travel.[34] Barry Buzan, for examples, notes that Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica provide two very different visions of international relations, one hopeful, the other pessimistic.[35] If consumers watched only one, they may be more apt to think about space in a particular way. In this way, popular culture and science fiction “helps to construct the reality of world politics for elites and the public alike.”[36]

Closely connected with informing is inspiring, something which science fiction has been adept at. None other than Arthur C. Clarke believed that science fiction reading is “preparing the public for the age of space flight.”[37] William Sims Bainbridge demonstrates the deep connection between science fiction and the beginnings of what he calls the “Spaceflight Movement” in the 1950s and 1960s.[38] Though the body of science fiction literature did not necessarily provide specific ideas for real world spaceflight, he finds that it “played a vital role in disseminating ideas and values.”[39] More ominously, H. Bruce Franklin finds a stark connection between science fiction and nuclear weaponry.[40]

Melanie Green, Jennifer Garst, and Timothy Brock suggest two mechanisms that make fiction powerful: consumers’ low scrutiny of the product and the notion of transportation.[41] In the first instance, consumers of fiction may lower their guard and more uncritically accept, consciously or not, the ideas presented. For fiction in general, people typically have some normative basis to assess its likelihood. However, when it comes to science fiction, that sort of familiarity is often lacking. While some things might be familiar to today’s reader, they are likely to encounter technology, settings, and situations that are quite unimaginable.

In the second, transportation, or the idea of “being lost in a book” has several effects: it may aid in the suspension of disbelief, it may make the events seem more personal, and it can create stronger feelings toward the events being presented. This is enhanced by the notion of estrangement often found in science fiction. Estrangement, or alienation, is key to the science fiction experience in that it provides some new, unreal, or totally different thing that is quite unlike anything encountered in the current day. This new thing is then placed in a world that is just recognizable enough to the consumer so that the known world can be confronted on entirely different terms.[42]

Science fiction writers have often used estrangement effectively to examine current societal problems in a way that is less threatening. Through the use of metaphors and allegories, science fiction stories appear to be entertainment that is easily dismissed when it is really addressing problems such as inequality, racism, and authoritarianism. Though Roddenberry did this to great effect in Star Trek, another 1960s science fiction series was also quite successful in its use, The Twilight Zone. For example, in the episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” the prospect of an alien invasion causes a neighborhood to turn on one another in an allegorical examination of communism’s red scare. While there was a definite message to the episode (the end narration includes the statement “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices”), the fact that it was spurred by aliens allows the viewer to become somewhat detached from the particular reality.[43]

While there is no guarantee that the audience will identify the message being examined in science fiction parables, the theories advanced above about the influential nature of fiction tell us that as consumers let down their guard, messages have an easier time being accepted, even if unconsciously. J. Furman Daniel and Paul Musgrave, in their theory of “synthetic experience,” propose that as people consumer fictional media, they construct memories of it similar to the way memories are constructed as one actually witnesses an event. In other words, individuals process fiction in much the same way that they process actual events.

They encode information in ways that affect judgement and can even displace factual information through other sources because narratives allow for the portrayal of unrealistic or unprecedented events as being naturalized. They thereby enable fictional sources to influence world politics not because the fictions serve as a delivery mechanism for factual content but because they prompt the inward experience of a fictional reality.[44]

It stands to reason then that this effect may be enhanced where science fiction is more estranging than contemporary fiction.[45]

While experiments into the influence of fictional narratives have confirmed their ability to sway public opinion,[46] science fiction in particular has more capability to do so in the case of space because of the uncertain nature of the space domain. When faced with uncertainty, individuals tend to rely on analogies to past events and circumstances to guide future behavior.[47]

Analogies are a psychological shortcut allowing an individual who has limited or bounded rationality to quickly understand a new situation, assess it, and decide on a course of action regarding it. Consequently, both politicians and social scientists use them to understand pernicious problems and bring to bear previous knowledge on new situations.[48] “The existing studies of analogical reasoning within political science have shown convincingly that analogizing is a fact of political life in elite decision making, while the psychological studies have shown that it is a pervasive tendency within human problem solving in general.”[49] Put another way, analogies are a means of coping with new unknowns in that they help fit new information into previously known schemas and patterns of information.

Analogies abound in discussions of international law for outer space and military space approaches. In terms of military use, scholars have often turned to theories of air power[50] and sea power[51] for inspiration. MJ Peterson analyzes the use of both analogies in the development of early outer space law, including the development of the Outer Space Treaty (OST).[52] These analogies, however, have typically been reserved for use in debates over policy, law, doctrine, and strategy and are based in realities that have already occurred rather than futuristic assumptions.

For the mass public envisioning broader uses of outer space, science fiction has filled the gap in producing imagined futures on which analogies can be based. In addition to the technological future portrayed in Star Trek, for example, the Star Wars fandom has similarly portrayed a future where politics and war are played out on a galactic scale. A recent report from the Aerospace Corporation about the physics of space warfare begins specifically by referencing the franchise, writing “[s]cenes from Star Wars, books, and TV shows portray a world very different from what we are likely to see in the next 50 years, if ever, given the laws of physics.”[53] This relationship was readily apparent with Ronald Reagan’s Space Defense Initiative (SDI) in the 1980s. While the program proposed advanced missile defense primarily in outer space, it quickly became saddled with the moniker “Star Wars” not only because that was what the mass public was already familiar with but because its critics wanted to highlight the infeasibility of the idea.[54] The debate over rank structure in the USSD, while based on serious questions of organizational culture and independence, has also been overtaken and overshadowed by the science fiction references.

Putting aside the question of whether analogies are appropriate to outer space,[55] they continue to be used along with imagined futures as means of forecasting the future. Unfortunately, the imagined futures presented by many science fiction writers are not based in near- or mid-term reality, but instead project outwards into the far future. This feature, while necessary to the genre, has the potential to do harm when unlikely imagined futures are used in contemporary policy debates. Indeed, “many science fiction works are quite indifferent, sometimes brazenly, to scientific possibility.”[56] The Star Trek universe, for example, is full of stories of advanced technology, faster than light space travel, and humanoid aliens. While this seems wonderful, fantastic, and even possible, it is not at all probable over the next 100 years. The same is the case for other science fiction universes—after all, Star Wars occurred “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”[57]

The inability to distinguish between potentialities in the near versus long term may not be a problem if the public were able to discern between them. However, even science fiction writers understand that this is not the case. As early as 1953, JN Leonard identified the potential that science fiction has to influence the public because “[a] large public does not distinguish between space fact and space fiction, apparently believing that travel to the planets of distant stars is just as imminent as flight to a nearby orbit around the familiar earth.”[58] He goes on to note the potential negative effect of this as developments that show the fragility of space travel may greatly disappoint an “oversold” public believing spaceflight to be just around the corner.[59] Similarly in 1953, Philip Wylie wrote critically of the influence of science fiction on the public arguing that it has had a “psychologically toxic effect” in that it “has probably made the public more credulous and befuddled than ever.”[60]

It is just this effect that we see at play as debates over the nature and purpose of the Space Force intersect with references to science fiction and Star Trek in particular. Star Trek has undoubtedly had significant social impact. Researchers have even highlighted its relationship to religion,[61] popular culture,[62] NASA and human spaceflight,[63] and technology.[64] Its legions of fans organize multiple conventions each year, its vernacular has made its way into mainstream society (“live long and prosper”), technological advances such as cellular phones and flip phones have evoked references to it, and releases of new movies or television shows have become cultural touchstones.

While this might be a positive influence if people in general knew more about space and current possibilities, in the absence of wide public knowledge, this influence is having a negative effect. It not only shapes expectations but increases them beyond the point that could potentially be met in the near- to mid-term. Making “the previously impossible seem possible” does not change the fact that the futures described in science fiction are not possible.[65]

Space is not the only area that has faced this particular problem. In her examination of the debate around fully autonomous weapons, Carpenter notes the particularly destructive effect that science fiction can have on policy debates. Rather than illuminating or advancing serious discussions about the desirability of such weapons, she found a disabling effect in terms of norm development through its use. As a result, those in favor of limits and/or bans on fully autonomous weapons undertook a campaign of explicit “de-science fictionalizing” their use to advance more serious consideration.[66] The USSF should also consider a similar effort aimed at distancing themselves from science fiction. Put more plainly, the USSF needs to actively, deliberately, and explicitly temper hopes because futuristic technological advances that are so key in science fiction inevitably heighten expectations about what is possible in the present. While this might be difficult to do because of the media attention such tropes receive and a need amongst some leaders to justify the USSF’s independence and existence, it is important to do to set the service on a sustainable development path.

Tempering expectations is also important in terms of health of the future force. Not only does Netflix’s Space Force depict a service that is deeply involved in launching astronauts to the moon, but in the spring of 2020, the USSF released a recruitment commercial that, in the final narration, suggested the potential recruits think that their purpose “isn’t on this planet.”[67] Notwithstanding the swearing in of a former Air Force officer to the Space Force aboard the International Space Station in December 2020,[68] the USSF is not yet in the business of launching humans into space. It may never be in that business. Thus, heightening expectations that future USSF recruits might have this opportunity will only lead to disappointment when they discover that this is not happening. While excitement is currently high in and about the new service, disappointment may lead to declining morale that will be to the detriment of the service in the future.

This argument should not be taken to infer that the USSF should never think about the future or far future. Recently, USSF’s Chief of Space Operations said, “[w]e’re building a Space Force not just for today, but for 100 years from now… We have to build a service that not only can do what it needs to do today, but also has the vision of where it might go.”[69] By being forward leaning but tempering and then explaining the future, the USSF can reclaim its own narrative. Moreover, dreamers and futurists are needed to avoid surprise and, for the military in particular, better position the country strategically to take advantage of what is to come.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Science fiction is undoubtedly influential, not just among the public, but among those who dream of the stars and create the means by which to do so. It is hard to imagine the Apollo program without Wernher von Braun who not only read science fiction but wrote it himself.[70] Today’s space leaders have been similarly influenced by science fiction from Isaac Asimov and Gerard K. O’Neill.[71] While these are all good and indeed necessary, we must also be aware that the influence of science fiction is not always in the positive direction. Policymakers and leaders must be able to confront the problems of today, not combat the potentialities of the far future.

The real life USSF should be the driver of its operations, not science fiction. The USSF is being scrutinized with every move it makes, especially in an era of instant social media commentary. The USSF’s decision to name its Space Operation Centers (SpOCs) with its clear link to Mr. Spock and its Kobayashi Maru software after the Star Trek training exercise only furthers the relationship between science fiction and the Space Force in the minds of the public. By doing so, it reminds the public of expansive science fiction futures and invites the application of dangerous future analogies. Where such references may be appropriate (for instance, in the use of the delta symbol which has a long history aside from the Star Trek franchise), it should make the extra effort to explain to the public its usage and distinguish itself from science fiction.

The Space Force is at a key moment in its creation and organization. Barely a year old as of this writing, the new service is still struggling to establish itself as independent and credible. Not only does it have to compete with science fiction depictions of space forces (for example, Starship Troopers and Star Wars in addition to Star Trek), but it also suffers from contemporary comedic takes presented in shows such as Netflix’s Space Force. The science fiction relationship was taken to even new heights when it was announced in December 2020 that members of the USSF would be called “Guardians” which immediately invited comparisons to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.[72] In continuing, whether consciously or not, to invoke science fiction touchstones, the USSF is making the job of being taken seriously harder.

Policy debates over the Space Force are being shaped by science fiction that is not based on current reality and does not confront the current circumstances that exist at this moment. Policy cannot and should not be built on the possibilities of the future but must solve current problems that are probable. Thinking that the Space Force of today will be akin to Starfleet of the 23rd (The Original Series era) or 24th century (The Next Generation era) is not helpful and keeps policymakers from confronting questions that need to be addressed now. These issues include space situation awareness,[73] space traffic management,[74] and debris remediation.[75] References to science fiction futures increases cognitive dissonance and contributes to a strategic disconnect. In sum, allowing the imagined futures of science fiction to influence our notions of the possible in the here and now are leading to a misperception of the situation currently being faced.

Dr. Wendy Whitman Cobb is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Security Studies in the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Air University. This paper represents solely the author’s views and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any Department or Agency of the U.S. Government. If you have a different perspective, we’d like to hear from you.

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NOTES

  1. Bill Shatner, “William Shatner wants to know: What the heck is wrong with you, Space Force?”, Military Times, August 26, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2020/08/26/what-the-heck-is-wrong-with-you-space-force/.
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Sims Bainbridge, The Spaceflight Revolution: A Sociological Study (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976).
  4. Chris Gebhardt, “Space Shuttle Enterprise—The Orbiter that Started it All,” NASASpaceflight.com, April 27, 2012, https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/04/space-shuttle-enterprise-the-orbiter-that-started-it-all/.
  5. David A. Deptula, “Let the Space Force define its own ranks,” The Hill, August 16, 2020, https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/511861-let-the-space-force-define-its-own-ranks.Brent Ziarnick, “Congress, free the Space Force,” The Hill, August 21, 2020, https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/513060-congress-free-the-space-force.Timothy Cox, “Space Force or Air Force-lite? Identity matters,” Military Times, September 3, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2020/09/03/space-force-or-air-force-lite-identity-matters/Peter Garretson, “Why giving the Space Force naval ranks might widen the schism with the Air Force,” Politico, August 7, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/07/space-force-air-force-schism-op-ed-392418.
  6. The Air Force and Army share officer ranks; enlisted and non-commissioned officer tanks do differ between the services.
  7. De Witt Douglas Kilgore, “Engineers’ Dreams: Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, and Astrofuturism in the 1950s,” Canadian Review of American Studies, vol. 27, no. 2 (1997): 103-13.
  8. Bryony Slaughter, “The Wrath of Khong: Science Fiction, Future Analogies, and Early Military Space Policy” (Master’s thesis, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Maxwell AFB, AL, 2020).Bruce Franklin, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2008).
  9. Daniel Deudney, Dark Skies: Space Expansionism, Planetary Geopolitics, and the Ends of Humanity (New York: Oxford UP, 2020), 109.
  10. Mark R. Whittington, “SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants the Space Force to become Star Fleet,” The Hill, March 9, 2020, https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/486538-spacexs-elon-musk-wants-the-space-force-to-become-star-fleet.
  11. Mark Whittington, “How the latest X-37B mission may change the world,” The Hill, May 17, 2020, https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/498210-how-the-latest-x-37b-mission-may-change-the-world.
  12. Darren Orf, “Why the U.S. Space Force Should Boldly Embrace Star Trek,” Popular Mechanics, January 27, 2020, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a30677263/star-trek-space-force/.
  13. Amanda Macias, “Trump just revealed the logo for the Space Force, and it looks like the ‘Star Trek’ symbol,” CNBC, January 24, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/24/trump-space-force-logo-looks-like-star-trek-starfleet-symbol.html.
  14. US Space Force, “We received a special birthday shout out…” Facebook, December 15, 2020, https://fb.watch/2wMFUw0sMS/.
  15. Deptula, “Let the Space Force define its own ranks”; Ziarnick, “Congress, free the Space Force”; Cox, “Space Force or Air Force-lite?”; Garretson, “Why giving the Space Force naval ranks might widen the schism with the Air Force.”
  16. Sandra Erwin, “Space Force stands up operations command in Colorado Spring,” Space News, October 21, 2020, https://spacenews.com/space-force-stands-up-operations-command-in-colorado-springs/.
  17. Amanda Macias, “Space Force boldly goes to Silicon Valley to get a Star Trek-flavored software boost,” CNBC, August 28, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/28/space-force-boldly-goes-to-silicon-valley-to-get-a-star-trek-flavored-software-boost.html.
  18. The Space Force is not the only service that draws naming inspiration from science fiction. The U.S. Air Force named a coding and software development effort Kessel Run drawing from a Star Wars reference. See Rachel S. Cohen, “The Air Force Software Revolution,” Air Force Magazine, September 1, 2019, https://www.airforcemag.com/article/the-air-force-software-revolution/.
  19. “FAQ About Google Trends Data,” Google, December 21, 2020, https://support.google.com/trends/answer/4365533?hl=en&ref_topic=6248052.
  20. Wendy N. Whitman Cobb, “Trending Now: Using Big Data to Examine Public Opinion of Space Policy,” Space Policy 32 (May 2015): 11-16, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spacepol.2015.02.008.
  21. William Harwood, “Trump directs Pentagon to create military space force,” CBS News, June 18, 2019, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-space-force-pentagon-create-military-space-force-national-space-council-meeting-2018-06-18/.
  22. Scott Bixby, “Is Trump’s ‘Space Force’ Against Space Law?” Daily Beast, June 18, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/is-trumps-space-force-against-space-law.
  23. Amanda Kooser, “Trump’s Space Force gets galaxy-size roasting on Twitter,” CNet, June 18, 2018, https://www.cnet.com/news/trumps-space-force-gets-galaxy-size-roasting-on-twitter/.
  24. Claudette Roulo, “Space Force to Become Sixth Branch of Armed Forces,” US Department of Defense, August 9, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1598071/space-force-to-become-sixth-branch-of-armed-forces/.
  25. Paul March-Russell, “Donald Trump’s Space Force plans analysed by a sci-fi expert,” The Conversation, August 16, 2018, https://theconversation.com/donald-trumps-space-force-plans-analysed-by-a-sci-fi-expert-101549.Alex Ward, “Trump wants a ‘space force.’ We have many questions,” Vox, August 9, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/6/18/17476266/trump-space-force-pence.
  26. Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, “Which of these six Space Force logos is the most, er, spacey?” CNet, August 9, 2018, https://www.cnet.com/news/which-space-force-logo-is-the-most-spacey/.
  27. Mike Wall, “Steve Carrell is Launching a ‘Space Force’ Comedy Series on Netflix,” Space.com, January 18, 2019, https://www.space.com/43051-netflix-space-force-show-steve-carell-greg-daniels.html.
  28. Sandra Erwin, “Trump signs defense bill establishing U.S. Space Force: What comes next,” Space News, December 20, 2019, https://spacenews.com/trump-signs-defense-bill-establishing-u-s-space-force-what-comes-next/.
  29. Vanessa Romo, “Trump Unveils New Space Force Logo, Inciting ‘Star Trek’ Fan Outrage,” NPR, January 24, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/01/24/799396583/trump-unveils-new-space-force-logo-inciting-star-trek-fan-outrage.
  30. Sandra Erwin, “US Space Force says its new seal is not a Starfleet knockoff,” Space News, January 25, 2020, https://spacenews.com/u-s-space-force-says-its-new-seal-is-not-a-starfleet-knockoff/.
  31. Alison Foreman, “What Netflix’s ‘Space Force’ gets right (and wrong) about the real Space Force,” Mashable, June 1, 2020, https://mashable.com/article/space-force-fact-vs-fiction/.
  32. This distinction has recently become all the more newsworthy with the fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown which portrays the courtship and early marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Though based on real events, many of the show’s scenes are purposefully dramatized though this might not be entirely clear to the viewer. As a result, some, including the United Kingdom’s minister of culture, have demanded that Netflix provide a disclaimer that the show is fictional. Netflix has declined to do so arguing that viewers understand that the show is a drama and is therefore fiction. Allie Gemmill, “Netflix Responds to Claims That ‘The Crown’ Needs a Fiction Disclaimer,” Collider, December 7, 2020, https://collider.com/the-crown-fiction-disclaimer-netflix-statement/.
  33. Daniel Bernardi, “’Star Trek’ in the 1960s: Liberal-Humanism and the Production of Race,” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 24, no. 2 (1997): 209-225, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4240604?seq=1.
  34. Charli Carpenter, “Rethinking the Political/-Science-/Fiction Nexus: Global Policy Making and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots,” Perspectives on Politics, 14, no. 1 (2016): 53-69, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592715003229.
  35. Barry Buzan, “America in Space: The International Relations of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica,” Millennium, 39, no. 1 (2010): 175-180, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0305829810371016.
  36. Juetta Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics: Exploring Intertextual Relations,” in To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 7.
  37. Albert I. Berger, “Science Fiction Critiques of the American Space Program, 1945-1958,” Science Fiction Studies, 5, no. 2 (1978): 101-102, https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/15/berger15art.htm.
  38. Bainbridge, The Spaceflight Revolution.
  39. Ibid., 233.
  40. H. Bruce Franklin, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008).
  41. Melanie C. Green, Jennifer Garst, Timothy C. Brock, “The Power of Fiction: Determinants and Boundaries,” in The Psychology of Entertainment Media: Blurring the Lines Between Entertainment and Persuasion, ed. LJ Shrum (New York: Routledge, 2004).
  42. Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics,” 9-10.
  43. The Twilight Zone, season 1, episode 22, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” directed by Ronald Winston, written by Rod Serling, featuring Claude Akins, Barry Atwater, Jack Weston, and Burt Metcalfe, aired March 4, 1960.
  44. J. Furman Daniel III and Paul Musgrave, “Synthetic Experiences: How Popular Culture Matters for Images of International Relations,” International Studies Quarterly 61 (2017): 506, https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx053.
  45. Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, New York: The Free Press (1998).
  46. Todd Adkins and Jeremiah J. Castle, “Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” Social Science Quarterly 95, no. 5 (2013): 1230-1244, https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12070.Michelle C. Pautz and Megan K. Warnement, “Government on the Silver Screen: Contemporary American Cinema’s Depiction of Bureaucrats, Police Officers, and Soldiers,” PS: Political Science and Politics 46, no. 3 (2013): 569-579, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096513000516.Calvert W. Jones and Celia Paris, “It’s the End of the World and They Know It: How Dystopian Fiction Shapes Political Attitudes,” Perspectives on Politics 16, no. 4 (2018): 969-989, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592718002153.Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, “Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time,” Media Psychology 10 (2007): 113-134,  https://doi.org/10.1080/15213260701301194.
  47. David Patrick Houghton, “Analogical Reasoning and Policymaking: Where and When is it Used?” Policy Sciences 31, no. 3 (1998): 151-176, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004355215177.Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965, Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP (1992).
  48. Houghton, “Analogical Reasoning and Policymaking.”
  49. Ibid., 153-154.
  50. Mark E. Harter, “Ten Propositions Regarding Space Power,” Air and Space Power Journal 20, no. 2 (2006), 64-78: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-20_Issue-1-4/2006_Vol20_No2.pdf.Benjamin S. Lambeth, “Airpower, Spacepower, and Cyberpower,” in Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays, eds. Charles D. Lutes and Peter L. Hays with Vincent A. Manzo, Lisa M. Yambrick, and M. Elaine Bunn (Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2011).
  51. John J. Klein, Space Warfare: Strategy, Principles, and Policy (New York: Routledge, 2006).Jon Sumida, “Old Thoughts, New Problems: Mahan and the Consideration of Spacepower,” in Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays, eds. Charles D. Lutes and Peter L. Hays with Vincent A. Manzo, Lisa M. Yambrick, and M. Elaine Bunn (Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2011).
  52. MJ Peterson, “The Use of Analogies in Developing Outer Space Law,” International Organization 51, no. 2 (1997), 245-274: https://doi.org/10.1162/002081897550357.
  53. Rebecca Reesman and James R. Wilson, “The Physics of Space War: How Orbital Dynamics Constrain Space-to-Space Engagements,” The Aerospace Corporation, October 2020, https://aerospace.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/Reesman_PhysicsWarSpace_20201001.pdf.
  54. Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics.
  55. For further examination of this topic see Elizabeth Mendenhall, “Treating Outer Space Like a Place: A Case for Rejecting Other Domain Analogies,” Astropolitics 16, no. 2 (2018): https://doi.org/10.1080/14777622.2018.1484650.
  56. Deudney, Dark Skies, 109.
  57. Star Wars: A New Hope, directed by George Lucas (1977; 20th Century Fox).
  58. JN Leonard, Flight Into Space (New York: Signet Key Books, 1953), 174.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Philip Wylie, “Science Fiction and Sanity in an Age of Crisis,” in Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future, ed. Reginald Bretnor (New York: Coward-McCann, 1953), 235-6.
  61. Michael Jindra, “Star Trek Fandom as a Religious Phenomenon,” Sociology of Religion 55, no. 1 (1994), 27-51: https://doi.org/10.2307/3712174.
  62. Lincoln Geraghty, ed., The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film, and Culture (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2008).
  63. Constance Penley, NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America (New York: Verso, 1997).
  64. Philipp Jordan and Brent Auernheimer, “The Fiction in Computer Science: A Qualitative Data Analysis of the ACM Digital Library for Traces of Star Trek,” Advances in Usability and User Experience 607 (2018), 508-520: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60492-3_48.
  65. Deudney, Dark Skies, 107.
  66. Carpenter, “Rethinking the Political/-Science-/Fiction Nexus.”
  67. U.S. Air Force and Space Force Recruiting, “U.S. Space Force: Make History :30 Commercial,” YouTube, July 22, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rbtG7wCYBQ.
  68. Sandra Erwin, “U.S. Space Force members are now guardians,” Space News, December 18, 2020, https://spacenews.com/u-s-space-force-members-are-now-guardians/.
  69. David Vergun, “Space Force Attracting Digitally Savvy Young People, Leader Says,” U.S. Department of Defense, November 22, 2020, https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2423971/space-force-attracting-digitally-savvy-young-people-leader-says/.
  70. Kilgore, “Engineers’ Dreams.”
  71. Christian Davenport, The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, New York City: PublicAffairs (2018).
  72. Sophie Lewis, “Pence reveals U.S. Space Force troops will be called ‘guardians,’” CBS News, December 20, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mike-pence-announces-us-space-force-called-guardians/.
  73. Mark A. Baird, “Maintaining Space Situational Awareness and Taking It to the Next Level,” Air and Space Power Journal, vol. 27, no. 5 (2013): 50-72.
  74. Brian G. Chow, “Space Traffic Management in the New Space Age,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 4 (2020): 74-102.
  75. Joshua Tallis, “Remediating Space Debris: Legal and Technical Barriers,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1 (2015): 86-99.

 

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