- The Pentagon established the Space Force earlier this year, but there is no official name for Space Force personnel.
- The Space Force is considering a number of names but hasn’t settled on one.
- Science fiction has some ideas, but the term “spacer” is our personal pick.
Now that America has a Space Force, it’s time to figure out what we should call those that serve. Whatever it is will likely stick for decades, even centuries, if we look at the other armed forces as an example. Members of the Space Force will likely serve not only on Earth but eventually take the name into space itself—to Earth’s orbit, the moon, and maybe, just maybe, the solar system and galaxy beyond.
The Space Force is the smallest of the armed services, with a projected troop strength of just 16,000 once personnel transfers from other branches of the military are complete. Still, what to call these men and women is proving a tough pick. According to DefenseOne, the Pentagon says it’s working on it:
[W]e’ve spent some serious time and energy” on it, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the Space Force, said during a Wednesday briefing at the Pentagon. “We have recently gone out to our language department at the Air Force Academy, the Defense Language Institute, other English and language centers, to open up thoughts on what [they] might be called.”
U.S. Army personnel are called soldiers. U.S. Air Force personnel are called airmen. Navy personnel are called sailors, those in the Marine Corps are called “Marines” (note the capitalized M), the Coast Guard calls its people “Coast Guardsmen,” and the National Guard uses whatever branch personnel belong to (Air National Guard members called airmen, for example).
According to Task & Purpose we can rule out “space men” and “space cadets”. It’s easy to see why: the first isn’t gender neutral, and the second implies the person as a member of a service academy. What are some other ideas?
Science fiction writers have thought about this issue for a long time. Many people associate space with the Air Force—for reasons that are never quite clear except that if you’re in the air and keep climbing you eventually enter space. Science fiction authors, on the other hand, have thought about this quite a lot and have concluded that the voyages of spaceships resemble the voyages of terrestrial seagoing ship—and thus should inherit naval terms.
The 1956 science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" has a navy-inspired Space Force, with ship's bosuns and naval ranks including commander. Robert Heinlein’s military science fiction classic Starship Troopers called Space Navy sailors “spacemen”, while Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War described those manning interplanetary warships using naval terms and ranks—but not explicitly “sailor.” Prolific science fiction author Ian Douglas, author of the Star Carrier series, calls his military space personnel “sailors,” while novelist John Scalzi of the Old Man’s War series refers to the space forces of the future a “navy,” which probably means sailors as well.
Science fiction has spoken. But the problem we 21st century humans run into is that there’s still a terrestrial navy using the term “sailor,” and until the U.S. Navy outlives its usefulness using the term for the Space Force would cause needless confusion. So what else can we use?
The pentagon is turning to crowdsourcing to come with some ideas. A Space Force email, posted on Facebook, is asking service members of the military's new branch to submit ideas for a variety of topics related to the Space Force, including uniforms, policies, and nomenclature. Some names like Guardians, Sentinels, and Vanguards are already in the running, according to Ars Technica.
Whatever the Space Force uses, it has to be gender neutral and should avoid sounding like an existing armed service. Most importantly it has to avoid sounding cheesy, which is not easy in an age of names like “Operation Infinite Justice” and “Operation Inherent Resolve.”
There are a number of themes we could consider. Space, as Star Trek pointed out is the “final frontier,” and the name could reflect America’s heritage from the time of colonization of North America through the westward expansion to the Pacific Ocean. Another could be the idea of Space Force members as guardians of the high ground, looking down protectively on Earth in general and the U.S.A. in particular.
Here’s one suggestion: “spacer.” It is short and to the point. It’s humble and unpretentious and works for both men and women. It’s similar to “trooper,” which harkens back to the U.S. Army cavalry troopers that patrolled the American frontier. That injects a little U.S. Army DNA into an organization with a name similar to the Air Force but run by a “Chief of Space Operations,” a name that borrows from the head of the Navy’s job title.
And whatever we do, let’s keep it lower case.
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