On February 25, the Chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force General John W. “Jay” Raymond and renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sat down for a virtual talk about space and how America’s newest branch is preparing to secure it. And while the conversation was designed to bolster transparency about space and create a sense of cooperation between America’s scientific community and the military, it also, accidentally, revealed some startling implications about the domain and America’s sprint to retain preeminence over it.    

The talk was organized by the Air Force Association as part of the annual Aerospace Warfare Symposium, a professional development event designed to highlight the future technologies and challenges of the aerospace and defense industries. The symposium was held live and later shared on YouTube. 

While well-intended, the 40-minute discussion between General Raymond and the ever-spirited Tyson was awkward at times. Occasionally, it felt as the audience had just stumbled across two guys at a bar bantering about top-secret material.

Tyson launched the conversation with the context of space and why he felt the Space Force’s mission is so critical. “Ever since Sputnik, space has been recognized as a strategic asset, or rather a strategic location,” Tyson began. “So it’s not a new thing, it’s actually an old thing that is finally being recognized as it needs to be under the umbrella of national security.”

As he went on in his charismatic, excitable way, Tyson enumerated the critical U.S. assets that rely on, or are intrinsically part of, the space domain. Tyson explained that:

“Wherever you have assets that you value, you’ll want to protect those assets. If they are national assets, you’re going to call a national group to defend that, and that would be the Department of Defense. What do we have in space? We have satellites, of course, that monitor weather and climate — of course, those are different, weather is what happens today and climate is the trends over time — we have satellites that currently monitor agriculture — checking rain, the humidification of regions, and how that is changing — we’ve got communications satellites, and of course we have navigation satellites.”

“The value of our space assets is not just the cost of the design and launch of that one satellite,” he continued, “it is the commerce it enables, which is rising through trillions of dollars of our commerce and our economic stability.”