General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

When we design a permanently reusable spaceship fleet what branch of the military will it be governed by, air force?

Asked by Ltryptophan (10724points) October 31st, 2016

Imagine large ships in outer space, scooting around the galaxy. We call them ships in science fiction. The USS Enterprise for instance. Which branch of the service will these nautically titled vessels fall under. I think the Air Force currently manages any manned spacecraft programs designated for military service.

Will there be a new branch of service that develops like the air force did?

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37 Answers

Strauss's avatar

NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Rarebear's avatar

In Stargate SG-1, it was run by the Air Force.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Probably some semi-secret society. Their is one for space trash and one for everything secret. It has a n in the first letter and a s and a p. I can’t remember it but it’s super secret. I thought it was napa or nsaa. Not NASA. It’s real I heard about it years ago on a documentary.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

The knights of the night or some other moto. They track satellites and unique space stuff. Can someone give us a link if you find it? It is American. It is real I just cant remember.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

As @Yetanotheruser writes, NASA already has that responsibility.

As for military craft, the US Air Force Space Command is almost 3 decades old.

For spacecraft with large crews, the Navy would have the best experience.

But most spacecraft will not have crews. It increased the costs immensely. Just like the cost of a private plane vs a battery powered drone.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It depends on what stage of development you’re talking about. I think a separate and independent service would come into being rather quickly, particularly once interstellar travel became routine. For rather obvious reasons, this agency or service would wield an inordinate amount of power and political clout, and might well wind up governing us all.

Darth_Algar's avatar

If we ever got to such a point it will likely be some branch of the military created specifically for that purpose.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I doubt that we will continue to have four branches of the military as we do today.

I think that the Navy and Marines (and possible Coast Guard) will become a single service, and the Army and Air Force will also merge.

The space defense would fall under the joint Army/Air Force command.

JLeslie's avatar


The way I understand it, military personnel can get a NASA detail, and I believe they maintain rank, pay, and years towards retirement. What I don’t know is if certain positions in NASA are always military rank, and even if you come from civilian life you automatically become an officer as a pilot for instance. Similar to NOAA and PHS where certain positions are military and some civilian within the organization.

NASA has done work coordinating, or in partnership with branches of the armed forces. There is no need for us to think if the armed forces as such separate entities. Sure, you might want Navy to beat Army in the football field, but on other fields we want everyone working together.

ucme's avatar

Ford, run by their recently appointed CEO Jeremy Clarkson

zenvelo's avatar

Well, since the Feds got out of the trucking business when it shut down the ICC, and with space travel privatized, why would it involve the military at all?

Elon Musk doesn’t answer to the Pentagon, he only answers to shareholders.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@JLeslie “The way I understand it, military personnel can get a NASA detail, and I believe they maintain rank, pay, and years towards retirement. What I don’t know is if certain positions in NASA are always military rank, and even if you come from civilian life you automatically become an officer as a pilot for instance.”

I don’t really know about NASA on the whole, but most of our astronauts have come out of the Air Force. Not all, but most. There have been some astronauts come from civilian life, and the astronaut program is open for civilians to apply to but, as you can imagine, having years of experience flying things like jet fighters gives one a leg up there.

Zaku's avatar

I think culture will need to adapt so much that the current US military branches will not be as relevant as this question supposes.

Notice that when aircraft became relevant to the US military, they were organized underneath the Army, Navy and later Marines as separate elements. My details may not be entirely accurate, but roughly, then the Army Air Force became the USAF, and the other branches retained their own air components. In Britain, aircraft started out organized under the army cavalry, before the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and then RAF were formed. Etc.

Currently of course, and hopefully as far as possible into the future, the main space effort would be non-military and thus in the US mainly NASA. Though there’s also JPL and private companies. More and more nations and companies are fielding efforts currently.

But there are mountains of shit liable to hit various fans before there’s any stable space fleet. The USA and its military structure will be much different, if they even exist, by that point.

Also there are many many assumptions to fill in about technology, missions, and areas of operation and so on, which would all inform an answer to such a question.

In general though, I think spacecraft with limited crew and missions such as we will have for a long time, more closely fits an Air Force metaphor than a naval one. But (assuming this happens at all) once, as your question asks, space ships are fairly common and are large and capable of independent and long-term operations in multiple roles, with entire staffs and command hierarchy aboard each, that seems to more fit a Naval metaphor.

But hopefully (necessarily?) if we’ve survived and advanced technology that long, we will also advance our culture and thinking so that there will be little/no need for a military organization, because we will not be having conflicts that call for them. If people have their physical, emotional and psychological needs well met, they won’t be inclined to do such violence, and crazy people will be detected and healed before they get anywhere near control of space technology.

In that more optimistic/peaceful case, I imagine there would be different organizations for different purposes for the use of space ships. Perhaps there would be some force-capable elements that would be needed in case of rogues, but I’d think those would actually follow more of a police / investigation / ranger / Coast Guard model/metaphor than a military one.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Aren’t we forbidden by treaty from militarizing space? Why would it come under military command at all?

Darth_Algar's avatar


Eh, technically speaking we are, but if it comes down to it I’m not sure how much weight that treaty holds. I mean who’s really going to enforce it? Reagan was fully prepared to wipe his ass with it.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Thanks for all the thoughtful answers.

Seek's avatar

Gene Roddenberry chose the nautical theme for Star Trek because the Navy and its predecessors are already familiar with the logistics involved in long-term exploration missions away from the creature comforts of a “home base”, from the modern naval submarines to Ferdinand Magellan to the Vikings.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The Navy had some beautiful airships that were kind of spaceship-like.

USS Akron

USS Macon

USS Shenandoah

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar Yes, astronauts can come from military and civilian, and it makes sense that many come from Air Force and Navy. What I don’t know is if they have military rank while serving? Working? For NASA as astronauts. Like I said, I believe they can do a detail at NASA, so that to me would mean they do have military rank, but I don’t know for sure.

For instance my dad was a Captain in the Public Health Service. He worked under the Surgeon General. He approved grants for research at universities for mental health. Total desk job. His uniform is the same as Navy, but with a different insignia. Rank is the same as Navy. Benefits the same as any military. Commissary, military health care, free Space A flights, can stay in base while in vacation. All the perks.

Darth_Algar's avatar

If you’re asking if NASA assigns military rank – not to my knowledge.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting. I never thought about it before this Q.

Seek's avatar

The Astronaut Corps has two ranks: Astronaut and Astronaut Candidate. Everything else is a position, not a rank. Source

Darth_Algar's avatar

^^^ Yep. So far our manned space missions haven’t been large enough, in terms of crew, to really warrant military-style command hierarchy. In any given one you’ve got no more than a handful of people, each as equally vital to the mission as the others.

ragingloli's avatar

I doubt it will be a matter of crew size that will determine the conversion to a military command structure, but the encounter with the first alien civilisation.

Darth_Algar's avatar

In that case, never.

ragingloli's avatar

Sooner than you think.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar It’s not really about military style hierarchy necessarily. My dad approved federal grants for universities. He just sat at a desk and met with scientists from universities. I think if it was a Civil Service job it wouldn’t be surprising. He did really “take orders or give orders” military style. It was an office environment pure and simple. He only had to wear a uniform twice a week, and they instated that 10 years after he had started in the military for PHS officers. The environment is not very military in his big government office building he worked at.

PHS is only a few thousand commissioned officers I think, and NOAA is a few hundred if I’m not mistaken. NASA has many more employees, several thousand, but that would be counting every level at NASA. It’s true they have very few astronauts, but they have other positions worthy of officer rank, (scientists, mathematicians, supervisors, medical doctors) if it was part of the military, but it seems you are right it isn’t.

Most people, even soldiers in the armed forces, don’t know PHS and NOAA is one of the seven branches of the military.

JLeslie's avatar

Missed putting this in as an edit. It looks like there is military detail available for astronauts.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think the point is missed in this discussion about just what is implied with organized routine space travel. If such travel involves interstellar distances, whatever entity controlling and managing it will be the most powerful (and richest) organization mankind has ever experienced. Perhaps there will be several competing opreations involved in the business, like the railroads of the U S post Civil War. But whatever setup emerges, the military model seems to me almost irresistible regarding the bureacratic necessities involved, and the regimenting of responsibilities.

Darth_Algar's avatar


NOAA and the PHS are uniformed services, but they aren’t really military. They have commissioned officers, but not rank and don’t serve any military purpose.

stanleybmanly's avatar

They are uniformed services but are relatively tiny. It will be the size of an enterprise engaged in routine travel on the scale anticipated with interstellar travel that will more or less force those engaged into wielding uniform and universal standards in a vast organization of people scattered among the stars.

Strauss's avatar

Retired and reserve military officers are entitled to be addressed by their ranks. That’s why, for example, you hear about General Colin Powell, and not so much about “PFC” Elvis Presley. Many astronauts were either retired or reserve military, and so were addressed or referred to by their military rank/title.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar They absolutely have rank. My dad is a Captain (06). Like I said he has full military privileges. I was born in Walter Reed hospital. My parents still take free military flights for vacations around the world. My dad just signed up at the VA clinic here where I live last time he visited. He wore dress blues at formal functions, and whites to work.

Back to the specific question asked by the OP, I still think NASA would be the most likely answer, and maybe it would become a military service. Or, maybe in space each branch of the service best trained just does their part, same as on earth now. Although, I like the idea of Starfleet too.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Astronauts retain their military rank while on detail, but I don’t think that rank means anything within NASA.

John Glenn was a Marine Major when he flew in 1962, but he could not issue orders as Marine Major. He had whatever authority NASA gave an astronaut.

Not sure if anyone here doubted this, but I was curious and looked it up.

He returned to the Marines and retired as a Colonel.

JLeslie's avatar

^^So, I think while on detail they are still accruing their years for military service towards retirement. That’s the deal really, you want it all to count. Being able to have a military retirement is awesome. My dad actually left the service for 8 years, and then went back, and they bridged the time so it all counted towards retirement.

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