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- star trek legendWilliam Shatner wrote an op-ed in which he urged the US Space Force to use naval ranks.
- Shatner points to a long history in science fiction of military space forces using naval ranks instead of air force ranks.
- Although the actor presents an entertaining case, there are also practical reasons why the Space Force could emulate the US Navy.
A sci-fi legend argues for the new US Space Force to use naval ranks. In one military times editorial, Star Trekit is William Shatner argues – with lavish use of emoji – that the long history of naval ranks in science fiction makes it fitting for the burgeoning Space Force to follow suit.
Although Shatner’s argument is ironic, there is actually a more practical reason why the Space Force might emulate the US Navy, not the US Air Force.
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Shatner, who portrayed Captain (later Admiral) James Tiberius Kirk in the original star trek TV series and movies, makes the case than the use of naval ranks in science fiction – which began with the 1902 film The journey to the moon (“Voyage to the Moon”) and continues to date with the current star trek franchise – is reason enough for Space Force to do the same.
Starfleet Command, the military and exploration branch of the United Federation of Planets in which Admiral Kirk served, uses naval ranks and terms, from chief engineer to ensign and admiral.
The Space Force reports to the US Air Force, just as the US Marine Corps reports to the Navy. According to Military.com, Shatner’s article came just two days after two generals were officially transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force while promoting them to the decidedly non-naval rank of lieutenant general.
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Shatner goes on to list a long line of heroic sci-fi captains, modestly leaving himself off the list despite his feat of being the first starship captain to defeat a Gorn in personal combat. Shatner also cites several bumbling sci-fi majors and colonels, ranks that don’t exist in the US Navy, to bolster his argument.
“Star Trek” borrowed much of its iconic rank symbols from the US military and NASA. When you unveiled the Space Force logo, many immediately saw it as an homage to “Star Trek” (even though our Delta was an homage to previous military space insignia). Why not borrow from “Star Trek” and adopt our ranks as well? We took them out of the Navy for good reason, even though Gene Roddenberry was a US Army Air Corps veteran. They made more sense when talking about a (space)ship.
From a practical point of view, there is some justification for using naval ranks. Spaceships are very similar to submarines: enclosed vessels traveling through a vacuum-like medium on long treks. Like submarines, starships deal with hull pressures, although they have to deal with pressure inside and out.
Naval forces have extensive experience planning and conducting voyages that can take weeks or months to complete, while most Air Force missions last several hours at most. When the Space Force finally operates spacecraft, it may find itself culturally more aligned with the Navy than the Air Force.
The House of Representatives National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2021, a federal bill that funds the Department of Defense, includes a provision authored by Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw (a former the Navy) which would require the Space Force to use Navy ranks.
The provision would still need to be reconciled with a Senate version of the NDAA and possibly signed into law by the president to go into effect.
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