It was one small step for man, one giant leap for Trumpkind.
Donald Trump made the short journey on Thursday from the Oval Office to the White House Rose Garden, then promised to unleash an army of space warriors to infinity and beyond.
In the hot sunshine of the dog days of August, the US president hosted a ceremony for the creation of space command within the military. Or strictly speaking, the recreation of space command – its previous incarnation was terminated in 2002 as part of a government restructuring.
“It’s a big deal,” Trump insisted, billing space as “the next warfighting domain. And I think that’s pretty obvious to everybody.”
A little dreamily, he added: “It’s all about spaccccce,” drawing out the sound.
Trump, who has shown little appetite for foreign wars or tackling climate change, does seem concerned about extraterrestrial threats. “The dangers to our country constantly evolve and so must we,” he said. “Now, those who wish to harm the United States – to seek to challenge us in the ultimate high ground of space. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame.”
The space command’s operations are expected to include enabling satellite-based navigation and communications for troops in the field, providing warning of missile launches abroad and defending against disruption by Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons.
Trump, wearing navy suit, white shirt and red tie, did not promise to “boldy go” but rather to “boldly deter aggression and outpace America’s rivals by far”.
He promised that his space force, celebrated by supporters on hats and T-shirts but lampooned by critics and comedians, will soon follow.
“SpaceCom will soon be followed, very importantly, by the establishment of the United States space force as the sixth branch of the United States armed forces. And that’s really something when you think about it. The space force will organise, train and equip SpaceCom’s mission.”
In reality space force – which would join the army, navy, air force, marine corps and coast guard as distinct service – is yet to win final approval by Congress. House and Senate bills differ on some point and work to reconcile the two will start after Congress returns from its summer recess.
Overall, Trump’s tone was less Star Trek’s Capt Jean-Luc Picard than Darth Vader of Star Wars, as the president said: “SpaceCom will ensure that America’s dominance in space is never questioned and never threatened, because we know the best way to prevent conflict is to prepare for victory.”
Thursday’s 10-minute ceremony was attended by the vice-president, Mike Pence; the defense secretary, Mark Esper; and Gen Jay Raymond, who will serve as the first commander of US space command. He currently heads air force space command, which currently deals with the lion’s share of military space operations.
Raymond presented Trump with a small memento and said to applause: “On behalf of the space warfighters, thank you for your leadership.”
Trump, perhaps feeling closer than ever before to being emperor of the universe, replied: “That’s a big one. Thank you very much.”
And with that he stood by as Esper formally signed documents creating SpaceCom and chief master sergeant unfurled the flag of US space command, depicting an American eagle soaring above Earth.