Every Branch of the service has ranks and uniforms which reflect their history, mission, and culture. A potential space force would not be any different in this regard. Consider the lineage it would have being mainly influenced by the US Air Force, the US Navy, and NASA. Each has a rank structure of some kind. It may be wise to establish a “space force” as a corps not within the Air Force... but within NASA, much as NOAA and NPHS have had for a long time. Here is my take on how this could or should look. If you question the need for a Space Force watch this 60 minutes video from 2015.
n short, a careful thoughtful consideration of the conditions of space flight leads one to the conclusion that the uniform used by Star Fleet on Star Trek:Enterprise is actually the most practical option for a service that is highly technical and space centered. Don't laugh and look at the uniforms already in use to see why this really may be the best option.
In space everyone does the grunt work, and everyone has technical training. This is even true of unmanned missions, which most space force missions would be.
In early days ranks, insignia and uniforms will simply be carried over from the forces personnel are drawn from. They will then simply work together as members of USAF Space Command did when Space Command was a unified combatant command and members of NASA’s astronaut corps who are also in the military do now. That can’t be sustained for long if the aim is to have an independent space war fighting, researching, and exploring organization with true unit cohesion and good morale.
As Mies van der Rohe put it for buildings, form follows function, this will also be true for military ranks and uniforms.
All members of this service will be people who could credibly apply for a job as an astronaut.
This will be a service comprised completely of highly educated, technical experts, scientist and engineers trained in the application of their talents to both warfare and peaceful exploration of space. They will use vehicles that are manned and unmanned. It is only reasonable that this service will be all officers no enlisted. Nothing against enlisted people as either a concept or people, but education prior to, and training after joining this service require a commitment of ten or twenty years. The US government will invest millions and millions in the training of every single member of this service. That alone says an officers commission not a year long or five year long enlistment. That isn't just my opinion:
So, What Does It Take to Be an Astronaut?
Astronaut requirements have changed with NASA's goals and missions. A pilot's license and engineering experience is still one route a person could take to becoming an astronaut, but it’s no longer the only one. Today, to be considered for an astronaut position, U.S. citizens must meet the following qualifications:
Astronaut candidates must also have skills in leadership, teamwork and communications. -NASA Astronaut Requirements June 21st 2017 by D Collins
- A bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics.
- At least three years of related professional experience obtained after degree completion OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft.
- The ability to pass the NASA long-duration astronaut physical. Distant and near visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 for each eye. The use of glasses is acceptable.
Anyone who is now enlisted yet has the same qualification as an astronaut would receive a commission if they are transferred to this service. If they have the education but not the experience to make astronaut right away. Their rank as you will see below would reflect that they are in training to reach a level of readiness to train as crew for specific unmanned and manned missions. Officers in this service would also conduct research of both a military and civilian nature.
This service would be more similar in form to the NASA’s Astronaut Corps works, to a certain degree. In fact the Astronaut Corps only has two ranks, Astronaut and Astronaut Candidate. I will admit the notion of a space force being (almost) entirely comprised of officers came to me from Star Trek. On Star Trek we see an organization which has a defined rank structure. Traditionally, Star Fleet had no true enlisted ranks. Everyone aboard ship was a fully qualified astronaut… a highly educated technician, scientist, or engineer. The only time such were depicted was during a war with troops being stationed to fight carrying rifles.and the . This is also the way
Some felt it unrealistic to have an all officer force since the armed services all have enlisted personnel. Probably because they didn’t know that such uniformed services already exist.
The rationale for having a service which is comprised exclusively of commissioned officers lies in the very technical nature of their work. Just as the NOAA corps was once described, by its own members as “military for geeks”. USAF Space Command… appears to embrace that too. I mean look at their logo next to that of Star Fleet.If that is an accident, I’ll eat my hat... especially given this clip.
A service of warrior geeks.
In summation any space force or space corps would have the same kind of culture, and recruitment requirements as the NOAA Commissioned Corps, NPHS Commissioned Corps, and the NASA Astronaut Corps. None of these organizations have enlisted personnel. They work just fine because in them everyone is a grunt, everyone is a geek. Everyone does the work to justify their flight weight.
There is sense of lineage and tradition that must be considered. The Space force should have a rank system which acknowledges the armed services that its initial members would come from as well as the civilian organization, NASA and it’s Astronaut Corps in which some of it’s members would be a part of. The Air Force and Navy rank structure should both be reflected in the space forces lineage. A space force is not a Navy, it is not an Air Force, nor is it just like the astronaut corps. It would be a blend of aspects of all three of those.
There should also be a clear divide between space force operators who are doing things like piloting drones or satellites in orbit but who are not themselves fully qualified astronaut candidates. There also must be a divide between flag officers and astronaut grade/line officer/Launch pad grade officers.
Warrant officers O1-O2, Astronaut Officers O3 – O6, and Flag officers O7-O10, with the final special rank Marshall of the Space Forces reserved for very distinguished wartime leadership. To gain promotion from CWO to LT will mean meeting all the standards set by NASA for an astronaut candidate, whether one is in line to fly a manned mission or not. Taking a hint from NASA only those who have flown in space will wear any sort of gold rank insignia or decorations. This will indicate that they are a fully qualified and experienced astronaut.
Also,I took an inspiration from Star Trek in that the insignia are greatly simplified. This has a few advantages. A space mission could last years. Many years in which a person may gain promotion but sending a complicated insignia for them to put on would be hard. The insignia used for astronaut officers through to Captain are pieces of metal that could be fashioned with hand tools if need be.
A simpler cleaner rank insignia also deemphasizes rank. It is present but not of great importance this is useful for a less formal force similar to the NOAACC and NPHSCC and NASA’s Astronaut Corps.
The titles being ones which sound lower was done to convey humility yet reward technical expertise.
A Lt in the space force, as I envision it, would be at the same pay grade as a Captain in the Air Force. In space technical abilities situationaly outweigh rank. i.e. if a sensitive payload is being placed in orbit then the Payload Commander is temporarily in command of the mission.
It is also a reality that, right now, we have space crews which are a mixture of civilian astronauts and military astronauts. The way NASA has made this work is by giving people positions in the space craft. Not“rank”. This should remain in tact and be formalized. Here is one way we could do that.
Civilian scientist and technicians who work under NASA, DOE,or as employees of a corporate partner need to be respected in any space force. Since the requirements to be such a specialist and those to be in the space force would be nearly identical. They may simply not have a military mindset,be over and age where military service is advisable, or be otherwise disqualified or excluded from military service (i.e. Transgender…yeah I’m thinking of myself a bit but I am still probably right about that). They may simply not want to commit to 20 years of military service. Never the less while they are in their abilities need to be recognized.
In real life this happened going as far back as the Manhattan project, similar military-civilian partnerships happen to this day. In fiction, think of Daniel Jackson in Star Gate SG1 they were wise to listen to him, or Dr Weir of Star Gate Atlantis. Dr Weir, a scientist with no military rank is never the less the CO of the installation. For a space force to really work long term that must be a possibility. If the mission is not principally military, a too military mindset might not be best at the top. A Lt General might not be the best overall commander for an expedition to the Moon or Mars which has a scientific focus. A military person might be the best commander for the early missions meant to establish a human presence there. Likewise a Lt General would clearly be in charge of a purely military installation or mission on Earth.
As Mies van der Rohe put it for buildings form follows function. A military uniform has to be functional in the place where it will be worn. It has to be functional in the hostile situation it will be worn in and yet look appropriate or an officer in command. For a space force that means zero G, where every extra ounce for buttons and frills and ribbons cost thousands of dollars, in an emergency situation both the normal and dress uniforms will have to be able to function inside a space suit. It will also have to make as much sense in space as it does on the ground. A uniform sends a message and says something about the organization as a whole.
There is one practical fact that cannot be disputed and which will likely be true for decades to come.
This space force/ space corps would be a very small service.
If we consider the number of personnel who are in the space arms of the armed services and consider the 18,000 people who applied to NASA for Astronaut training the number of people willing and even remotely qualified to serve in a space force would be under 25,000. Any army corps or Division would have about that amount number of personnel. As such the space force should either use uniforms which are the same as an existing service and/or have a very simple uniform.
The simplest and most likely option is to simply re-purpose the uniforms of other larger services.
A simple solution would be for all Space force personnel to us the dress uniform of the air force with space force insignia and rank indicated in the place of air force insignia. WO and CWO would wear the current air fore combat fatigues of whatever time the WO or CWO happens to be serving. LT and above, being fully qualified astronaut candidates would have the option and privilege of wearing the same flight suit that NASA astronauts wear with Space Force insignia and silver rank insignia for astronaut candidates. NASA patches and gold rank insignia would be reserved for those who have served in space with NASA. Realistically, any human space flight will be done as part of a NASA mission for the foreseeable future. Flag grade officers would be able to wear any style of uniform they want which is consistent with the aesthetic of the Space Force and displaying the rank insignia of the space force.
Long term, a space force will need a distinctive uniform.
The color of a space force would likely be black. Black being a color associated with space.
There is a real danger with having a sharp black uniform covered in military rank insignia, ribbons and devices…. You can too easily end up looking like this guy.
In fact, the Air Force considered a uniform that has either a very dark blue or black coloration, the Billy Mitchell heritage coat. It didn’t leave a good impression on most people. To many people it looked like a uniform that would be worn by the evil galactic empire.
However, it is CLOSE to what would work for a space force. The problem is it is too elaborate. Like a certain other services black uniforms were.
The laws of physics militate against certain standard uniform decorations. Consider a panel of ribbons on the chest or medals which hang. In zero G those medals won’t hang. They’ll float. The same for epaulets. If those devices come off they won’t fall down. They’ll float around and can cause various problems.
A cleaner simpler uniform is what a space force needs. Instead think more… GATTACA, a very simple easy to find black suit that one could buy off the rack. The problem with that is it may look too civilian.
This may be more of a look, advised, for civilian workers.
Real life Military-Scientific Services of the United States
In fact there are already real life precedents for uniformed, military ranked, scientific corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Public Health Service using essentially this uniform.
NOAA Corps officer Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Waddington with NOAA's Beechcraft King Air 350CER emergency response and coast mapping aircraft, which was on display at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in July 2016.
This is their flight suit. They wear basically the same uniform as Naval officers the rest of the time.
If you are in the service and think that a service like the NOAA corps can't be that tough... Uhm they fly into hurricanes, to gather information, that impacts millions of lives. If you are in the Navy and you see one of them, don't interrogate what part of the navy they are in and ask if you have to salute them. Snap too attention and give them the same respect as any other officer.
For that matter the NASA Astronaut Corps originated this flight suit uniform which the NOAACC adopted for flights.
Image of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield which I have digitally colored all black.
Service Dress Uniform
Star Trek: Enterprise may have gotten this one just about right. The dress uniform used would be a perfect dress uniform for a real-life space force. Coloring it BLACK and with none of the colored piping, or different colored piping, would be just the right look. Military but appropriate for space flight and a corps/service which has a strong science mission in addition to its military duties.
Little to no ribbons, devices, medals or other decorations are displayed. Such devices could get in the way during space flight operations.
There is a powerful message in a simple uniform.
It says I’m in the space force…. I don’t have to impress you. It says, “we’re in the space force, I may out rank you but we are colleagues in science and technology.” Star Trek, GATTACA and either intentionally or not NASA actually get that effect in their simple uniform. Notice, when you see a photo of an astronaut who may be in the Navy, or Air Force as well as an astronaut…. What do they wear. That is what USSF should too.