Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't think President Donald Trump's proposed Space Force is such a bad idea.
Tyson tells TMZ that some people are only against the Space Force because it was Trump's idea, but "just because it came from Trump, doesn't mean it's crazy." He says creating a separate Space Force would be similar to the Air Force splitting off from the Army and becoming its own branch in the 1940s. "Today, you're not questioning, 'why is there an Air Force,'" he argues.
So what does Tyson think the Space Force would be good for? Asteroid strikes, for one thing. "What happens when the next asteroid comes and it's going to take us out? I'm going to want a Space Force to bat the thing out of harm's way," he says.
Such strikes are a genuine threat, albeit a very unlikely one. And the Observer's Neel Patel makes a decent case that the military would be more suited to plan and carry out the response to an asteroid than a civilian organization like NASA, particularly if the U.S. decided to fire a nuclear missile at the asteroid in the hopes of throwing it off course. The Space Force has also received the support of many officials, including Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. But it's not a good idea.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited a 2016 study from the Government Accountability Office, there are currently "60 distinct entities that deal with assets in space." In fact, as I noted earlier this month, the U.S. already has a kind of Space Force: the Air Force Space Command, which employs more than 36,000 people. Is there really a need to make the Space Command larger, or to add to the alphabet soup of space agencies?
There's another problem. The U.N. Outer Space Treaty puts some limits on the militarization of space: It bans the use of weapons of mass destruction outside the Earth's atmosphere, and it prohibits the installation of military bases on asteroids or the moon. But as the University of Kent's Gbenga Oduntan writes, the treaty does not preclude member countries from deploying other kinds of weapons in space. If the Space Force triggers an extraterrestrial arms race, we could see "a total disruption of the agreed law that outer space is the common heritage of all humankind."
TMZ, meanwhile, asked Tyson if he would be willing to serve as an adviser on the Space Force. "When the government calls, we all have a duty, if you have a particular expertise that can serve the nation," he responded. "I think you need to serve."