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Space Force Takes Next Steps

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Even as the coronavirus pandemic touches nearly every aspect of American life, the U.S. Space Force soars on. Yesterday at the White House, President Trump received the official Space Force flag. And as Colorado Public Radio's Dan Boyce reports, the newest branch of the U.S. military is moving ahead with recruitment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPACE FORCE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Some people look to the stars and ask, what if?

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: First, there's a glitzy new recruitment ad. It shows satellites and rocket ships flying around, soldiers in hardhats on launch pads or in dark rooms examining sci-fi floating holograms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPACE FORCE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Maybe your purpose on this planet isn't on this planet.

BOYCE: The ad debuted during a webinar decidedly less high-tech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARBARA BARRETT: Gen. Raymond and I are here, COVID compliant in our distancing.

BOYCE: That's Barbara Barrett, the secretary of the Air Force. Sitting 6 feet from her at a boardroom table is Gen. John Raymond, the nation's first chief of space operations, the head of the Space Force.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN G RAYMOND: Just within the past few months, we've seen Russia maneuver a satellite with characteristics of a weapons system.

BOYCE: Raymond says his new service has already been busy intercepting threats in space from Russia and from Iran. The general adds the Space Force has helped with the nation's coronavirus response, like in optimizing Internet bandwidth for Navy medical ships. Yeah, that's part of their mission. Air Force Secretary Barrett says the force is recruiting applicants with STEM backgrounds, computer scientists...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARRETT: And what has happened so far is that recruitment hasn't been a problem, that people find out that there is a possibility of joining the Space Force - there seems to be an avalanche of applicants.

BOYCE: At full strength, the Space Force will likely have a little over 15,000 personnel, making it by far the smallest military branch. Most of those hires are happening internally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Class of 2020 dismissed.

(SOUNDBITE OF JETS FLYING)

BOYCE: You're hearing the Air Force Thunderbirds jet squadron tear across the skies over Colorado Springs. This was during the recent coronavirus-compliant graduation for seniors of the U.S. Air Force Academy. 2020 marks the first year the Academy sent some graduating cadets directly into the Space Force, creating 86 new second lieutenants, like Los Angeles native Vann Wollman. He describes the new branch as the world's largest tech startup. He hopes to work on partnerships with private industry to develop new technologies.

VANN WOLLMAN: Disruptive change and uncertain situations is definitely something that I'm very fond of and love kind of digging into.

BOYCE: Much of the Space Force's work at this point is happening in Colorado Springs. The city is the interim home of the closely related U.S. Space Command. And there are tons of ways to get a piece of that pie, even for those who aren't formally part of the Space Force. In late February, I visited the construction site for the first-floor headquarters of a new downtown Colorado Springs private tech company. Bluestaq CEO Seth Harvey says his business focuses on data management and analytics, often involving satellites. By far, their biggest client is the U.S. military. Harvey's staff has grown from 4 to 30 in less than two years.

SETH HARVEY: This is called Space Country, and Colorado Springs is really the epicenter of Space Country.

BOYCE: Shortly after crews finished construction on the new headquarters, the state, like much of the nation, shut down due to the pandemic. Bluestaq employees have just started going back into the office - if they want to. The company says the virus has not affected their plans to expand to 50 staff by the end of the year. They're confident military investment in the space industry will just keep growing. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Colorado Springs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.