NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine threw his support behind President Trump's proposed "Space Force" as a new branch of the armed services in an interview this week with me and Axios science editor Andrew Freedman.
Having NASA behind the Space Force could hasten its creation. The Pentagon has said it will study the president's proposal, and consult Congress, which ultimately would have to pass a bill to create such a space entity. In the meantime, Space Force has become a meme online and a rallying cry among the President's base.
Why it matters: While NASA is a civilian space agency dedicated to scientific research and space exploration and a Space Force wouldn't be its purview, the agency's leader — himself a former Navy fighter pilot — is endorsing what some see as a step toward the further militarization of space. Bridenstine, however, says it's a necessary move to protect the core interests of the U.S. as well as NASA's assets.
Bridenstine, who is also a member of the National Space Council, described space as an increasingly competitive environment where America is strategically vulnerable.
"People have forever believed that space is a sanctuary and it is not. It has becoming more contested, more congested and more competitive than ever before. And in order to preserve space, we have to be willing to defend it." — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
The threat: Citing intelligence that the Chinese and Russians are developing capabilities to target U.S. satellites, Bridenstine said: "And it is not just direct ascent anti-satellite missiles. It's co-orbital anti-satellite capabilities, it's jamming, it's dazzling, it's spoofing, it's hacking — all of these threats are proliferating at a pace we have never seen before, and the Chinese are calling space the American Achilles heel."
The big picture: The Trump administration has proposed ending federal funding for the International Space Station sometime after 2024. The objective, says Bridenstine, is for the commercial sector to operate in low-Earth orbit apart from NASA so that the agency can push further out to the Moon or Mars, "where commercial isn't quite ready or willing to go based on return on investment."
What it means: Bridenstine emphasized that any Space Force would be the Defense Department's domain.
"Now this isn't NASA's role, it isn't NASA's function, but I think it is important to note that the NASA administrator supports our astronauts and billion-dollar-plus investments being protected."
- Read more from our interview with Bridenstine.
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