What will we call the men and women of the Space Force?
The United States must be prepared to meet the emerging threats in space, which the actions of our global competitors have forced us to consider space as a warfighting domain. The United States Space Force appears to be America’s solution/ This Space Force will need to project power in secure America’s interests beyond the Earth
But what will we call the members of this new service with such a proud and vital mission?
Considering the nicknames of members of the armed services, soldier (Army), marine (Marine Corps), sailor (Navy), airman (Air Force) and guardsman (Coast Guard), there are three categories determining the nicknames: domain, function, or motive power.
Soldier and guardsman are based on the service’s function, that is, what members do. Marine and airman are both based on the domain in which they operate — the sea (naval infantry) and the air, respectively. Sailor is based on sail power, the means by which humans have travelled the sea for most of recorded history.
Nicknames such as “orbiter” or “rocketeer” are examples for names based off of motive power for space. Rocketry and orbits will not be overthrown by any other type of motive power for space in the foreseeable future, but mid- to long-term technological trends may someday yield significantly different forms of motive power. Extensive use of solar or light sails might lead to a new generation of “sailors.”
In the shorter term, Space Force personnel may conduct operations beyond Earth orbits in the near- to mid-term, so the nickname “orbiter” may unduly limit their potential. Defining Space Force personnel by motive power seems both limiting and premature. But “rocketeer” and “orbiter” have the obvious negatives of sounding a bit silly and not commanding respect.
Looking to the domain for a Space Force nickname offers some options. The direct analogue for airman is “spaceman,” but there is a serious giggle factor with “spaceman” and associated “space cadet” seem too high to be overcome. A potential option is the term “spacer.” It is focused entirely on the domain, it is gender-neutral, and does not connotatively limit the functions of Space Force personnel beyond their connection to outer space as a domain.
The term “spacer” does have different definitions (in construction, dentistry and others) that revolve around “a device or piece used to create or maintain a desired amount of space between two parts.” However, the term spacer is not so ingrained in American culture that it cannot gain a new, dominant meaning as a member of the Space Force.
“Spacer” also has a bit of a giggle factor and might not command authority. Overall, the term spacer appears to be the most viable of the domain options, and the term most open to become whatever the members of the Space Force make it.
Choosing a nickname based on the Space Force’s function offer many more potential (and potentially attractive) names than those based off of motive power or domain. Some names that have been proposed by the Army Space Professionals Association are “trooper,” “guardian,” and “sentinel.” Some of these names have broad appeal and have some justification, even in pop culture.
Trooper, used by Russia to term is Space Force, is defined as a solider, paratrooper, cavalryman, or state policeman in English, but it is generic enough for consideration. Plus, the pop culture references to Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” and its movie adaptation are very strong in the United States. The term trooper also seems somewhat adaptable to incorporate new definitions.
The main drawbacks of “trooper” might also sound silly because of pop culture references, and there is no clear understanding of what a space “trooper” does. Since the Space Force will probably not field anything resembling “Starship Troopers’” Mobile Infantry anytime soon (or for that matter, “Star Wars’” storm troopers), trooper may also be considered false advertising by the American public. In addition, it would not be a good idea to mirror image the Russians and copy their model when we are trying to create a separate and unique force of our own.
“Guardian” has a clearer functional definition, guarding America and its space interests. The term “guardian” also has a defensive connotation that may appeal to those who feel the Space Force may increase hostilities in space. Advocates of a Coast Guard-like “Space Guard” service culture in the Space Force would find guardian appealing.
However, the term “guardian” may not be unique enough a term around which the Space Force will be able to coalesce an independent culture. Pop culture references include the recent movie series “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the giggle factor of guardian may be high but is probably not insurmountable.
“Sentinel” provides perhaps the most interesting example of a functional nickname for the Space Force. A sentinel is “a soldier of guard whose job is to stand and keep watch.” This definition, apart from its historical infantry association, does appear to encapsulate the current and near-term mission of the Space Force: Space Force personnel stand watch over the Earth with satellite surveillance and over America’s interests in space, including its satellite constellations.
From a pop culture perspective, Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel,” was the inspiration for the novel and movie series “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Connotatively, however, sentinel evokes passivity and surrendering the initiative (as sentinels stand guard and do little else). This is in contradiction to President Trump’s vision of the Space Force as leading America’s charge to achieve dominance in space economically and politically, as well as militarily. The Space Force may need to take a more active role in space development, if not necessarily space warfare, than simply standing guard over the status quo.
But ultimately America should choose the Space Force’s name to accentuate the domain that will be so critical to America’s future, making “spacer” the right choice.
Brent Ziarnick is an assistant professor of National Security Studies at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Air University, the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.