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

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