Members of the US Space Force, America’s first military service in more than 70 years, will be known as “Guardians”, Mike Pence said on Friday.
“Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and guardians will be defending our nation for generations to come,” Mr Pence said.
The vice-president made the announcement at a ceremony to mark the first birthday of the newest branch of America’s armed forces.
Today, after a yearlong process that produced hundreds of submissions and research involving space professionals and members of the general public, we can finally share with you the name by which we will be known: Guardians. pic.twitter.com/Tmlff4LKW6
— United States Space Force (@SpaceForceDoD) December 18, 2020
Until the announcement, members of the Force had been colloquially known as “space warfighters” and “space professionals”.
The decision to adopt the term guardians followed consultations with members of the Force. General Jay Raymond, chief of space operations, rejected suggestions such as airman because he wanted the title to be gender-neutral.
The long-term future of the Force remains unclear, however, with the incoming Biden administration yet to commit to its retention. Scrapping the initiative would require an act of Congress.
There was some scepticism over the new name on social media, with some pointing out its similarity to fictional heroes such as Marvel Comics’ “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
James Gunn, who created the Guardians of the Galaxy, was particularly annoyed by what he regarded as plagiarism. “Can we sue this dork”, he asked on Twitter.
It is not the first time that the Force has been accused of pilfering ideas from space fiction.
When the initial insignia was unveiled, many noted that it bore a strong resemblance to the Star Trek Starfleet command logo.
However, the Space Force denied plagiarism. “Guardians is a name with a long history in space operations, tracing back to the original command motto of Air Force Space Command in 1983, ‘Guardians of the High Frontier,” it wrote on Twitter.
Space Force was one of Donald Trump’s flagship policies. It was announced last December with the president describing space as the world’s newest warfighting domain.
It was unveiled 35 years after the Reagan administration expanded the Cold War into space with his Strategic Defence Initiative – popularly known at the time as “Star Wars.”
The force was allocated $40 million (£30 m), which was taken out of the US military’s annual $738bn budget.
Its role was clarified in August by a 64-page strategy document explaining how “space warfighters”, as they were known at the time, would fit into overall US defence strategy.
With space becoming the new military frontier, the Force’s task was to “deter war and counter the malign actions of strategic competitors,” the document said.
“Should deterrence fail, military space forces are prepared to fight and win our Nation’s wars, in space, from space, and to space.”
Mr Pence’s announcement came on the same day that the Space Force got its first astronaut.
NASA’s Mike Hopkins was sworn in from onboard the International Space Station, where he is currently posted.