Ok, let’s go ahead and get it out of the way: SPACE FORCE!
Yes, 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump announced this month the creation of the United States Space Force which pretty much already existed in the form of the Air Force Space Command and was almost universally opposed by military leadership, but hey, who cares? Yell it with me now while waving ol’ glory in front of a montage of exploding bald eagles: SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE!
While the creation of the USSF (SPACE FOOOOOOOORCE!!) has been controversial and fodder for late-night comics the world over, it does highlight the fact that space is playing an increasingly important role in military operations. All of the major superpowers operate some form of space-based weaponry or ‘killer’ satellites, while US intelligence agencies have been warning for months now that like winter, war in space is coming. While these man-made spaceborne threats are indeed terrifying, the fact remains that the most pressing threats from outer space are the hundreds of thousands of potentially deadly near-Earth objects (NEOs) circling the solar system biding their time.
NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been conducting ‘wargame’ simulations over the last few years to test their preparedness ahead of any future asteroid impact events (Remember: it’s a question of when and where, not if). The result of those simulations is the White House’s latest National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan released earlier this week. The 23-page document outlines how various agencies of the U.S. government plan to increase their preparedness over the next decade and develop strategies for both mitigating the risks of NEO impacts and planning what to do in the event of the inevitable next strike.
The White House lists five main goals for the NEO plan: enhance NEO detection, tracking, and characterization capabilities; enhance NEO modeling, prediction, and information integration; develop technologies for NEO deflection and disruption missions; increase international cooperation for NEO preparation; and strengthen and routinely exercise NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols. Not exactly light nighttime reading for those of us who know it could happen anywhere and at anytime.
The document is mostly background information on NEOs and acronym-heavy bureaucratic language laying out which agencies will be tasked with which tasks (my favorite is “terrestrial migration”). Above all, the big takeaway is that NEOs are indeed a major threat, one for which we’re still terrifyingly unprepared despite the fact that we’ve known for decades or longer that the Earth bears the scars of past cataclysmic strikes.
Not to worry, though: the Space Force will save us. SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE!