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Trump shows his signature on the Space Policy Directive-4. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The Space Force, once an applause line, is now a reality.

Driving the news: President Trump signed a directive this afternoon starting the process for creating a U.S. Space Force within the Air Force, but with its own representative on the Join Chiefs of Staff, similar to how the Marines are within the Navy.

  • The Defense Department will now draft legislation, as these efforts require congressional approval and funding.
  • Flashback: The Air Force spent five years as part of the Army before becoming its own separate branch in 1947.

Why it matters: This takes what was a rally slogan and T-shirt and moves it toward becoming a real national security entity aimed at blunting the rising power of China in particular, Axios Science editor Andrew Freedman emails.

  • Notably, NASA, as a civilian space agency, will be left out of the new entity. But how NASA intersects with a Space Force will help determine the extent to which space exploration is still viewed as a largely peaceful endeavor.

Between the lines: A Space Force will be a participant in the next space races, public and private:

  • Public: "China ... landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon [in January], a historic first. This month, an Israeli spacecraft destined for the moon is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. If successful, it would make Israel the fourth country ... to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, " WashPost reports.
  • Private: Elon Musk has SpaceX, Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has Stratolaunch and Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin, Axios' Dan Primack noted late last year.

Go deeper: Axios' special report on the Space Race

Go deeper

Movie theaters go out of style

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vaccination rates are going up, people are going out to restaurants again — although the new COVID variant may get in the way — but they still aren't rushing back to the movies.

By the numbers: Some 49% of pre-pandemic moviegoers are no longer hitting theaters, according to a study from the film research company The Quorum, as reported by the New York Times.

3 hours ago - Health

Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles down

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

European countries are doubling down on pressure campaigns to get people vaccinated just as Republicans continue to wage war — often successfully — against vaccine mandates in the U.S.

Why it matters: The starkly different approaches create a sharp contrast between the regions' approaches to vaccination, even as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads around the world.

4 hours ago - World

Two years of COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Two years ago Wednesday, the first case of a mysterious new respiratory disease was discovered in Wuhan, China. Now, the Omicron variant has deepened concerns about just how much longer the coronavirus pandemic will last.

The big picture: More than 5 million people have died since that first case. Most people on earth have lived through some form of lockdown. 54% of the global population has had at least one vaccination, though the shots have been distributed unevenly.