Don't pick on the little guy.

That's what White House press secretary Jen Psaki learned last week as she tried to get a laugh out of the nation's newest and smallest armed service.

"Wow.  Space Force," she chortled in briefing with reporters when asked about the future of the service.  "It’s the plane of today."

The attempt at humor aimed to place Space Force on the same footing as questions about a proposed new color scheme for Air Force One. It crashed in flames.

Psaki sent lawmakers including Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who proposed the new service in 2017, into orbit.

And a short time later, she solemnly took the stage to say that Space Force has President Joe Biden's "full support."

It should.

While the Space Force has only 13,000 troops, giving even the diminutive Coast Guard a sister service to pick on, it has a role in America's future that could be even larger than its military cousins combined. America has already conquered dirt, water and air. Only the vastness of space delivers a new horizon.

Space Force came into existence to deal with a growing threat to American satellites, orbiting robots that deliver navigation and timing signals to Earth while giving troops on the ground unmatched communications capability and intelligence.

But soon, there will be even more important things in space for enemies to target. In Colorado, workers are developing a new generation of spacecraft that will carry Americans back to the moon and on to Mars.

New commercial space developments, meanwhile, are looking at opportunities in orbit that could prove so attractive in the coming years that a future workforce will be commuting to the stars. Those opportunities are more Industrial Revolution than "Star Trek." Space is a place where pollution isn't near as big of a concern as it is on Earth.

If you want to build a factory that uses toxic chemicals to build the next great widget, you're going to love that the Environmental Protection Agency  doesn't care about space, where there are no polar bears to kill or rivers to pollute.

Space is also full of attractive natural resources. The moon has vast mineral wealth along with nearby asteroids that can be mined with impunity without harming a blade of grass on Earth.

Laugh all you want about the science fiction, but wealthy investors are already buying in. And where money goes, security must follow. If we are going to have billions of dollars in industry in space, we must have a military capable of defending it.

America built its Navy not to impose foreign policy or defeat enemies in war. Instead, the Navy came about to protect American commerce on the high seas from piracy.

While the Army traces its roots back to the Revolutionary War, the real origin of ground-pounding troops  on this continent goes back to the necessity for protecting settlers and traders.

And even before mining claims are made and factories open up in space, there's plenty of commerce above the planet to protect.

More than 1,200 satellite were place in orbit last year, and the vast majority of the spacecraft were commercial birds, including clouds of SpaceX Starlink satellites that are part of a plan to deliver internet service worldwide from space starting this year.

And with lots of money zipping around above the clouds, pirates and bandits are sure to follow.

Think about this the next time you want to make fun of the Buzz Lightyear kids at Peterson, Schriever and Buckley Air Force bases: America's smallest service is defending what could become its largest battlefield.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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