Star Trek's Captain Kirk calls out Space Force in rank debate

William Shatner is worried Space Force will end up with colonels instead of captains in charge of spaceships.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read
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William Shatner as Captain Kirk.


William Shatner, famous for his role as Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek, doesn't want to see a future where the real-life Space Force has colonels in command of spaceships. 

Shatner delivered an op-ed in Military Times on Wednesday titled "What the heck is wrong with you, Space Force?" It's even more entertaining if you imagine him reading it in his distinctive cadence and voice.

The Canadian-born actor suggests Space Force should use a Navy-style rank (captain) for ship commanders rather than Air Force or Army nomenclature (where the equivalent rank is colonel). In the missive, he calls out the long history of captains on spaceships in science fiction. He even goes all the way back to seminal 1902 space film A Trip to the Moon, which featured a rocket captain.

Shatner first broached the rank question last week on Twitter by writing to Space Force: "I'm just a nobody here but I was wondering; is it true that the commanding officer onboard a 'Space Force' ship is designated a Colonel & not a Captain?" He then offered to debate the issue.

The US Navy responded to the tweet with a sly remark: "We did have the original USS Enterprise," in reference to its long history of ships named "Enterprise," including an aircraft carrier that was commissioned as the USS Enterprise in 1938.

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Space Force unveiled its official flag in May 2020.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Shatner dedicates some time and emojis to disparaging various fictional characters with major and colonel ranks while ignoring the exploits of the Stargate crew.

Space Force has not officially adopted a rank structure yet. 

Back in February, the branch put out a request for feedback on what to call its members and how to handle ranks, saying it was "taking a deliberate approach to ensure Space Force member titles and ranks appropriately convey the nature of the newest Armed Forces branch and the domain in which it operates."

It may be up to Congress to decide. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL, introduced an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would direct Space Force to use Navy ranks. 

Crenshaw responded to Shatner over Twitter on Wednesday, telling the actor "I got you covered."

The debate over ranks might not be decided for awhile. The NDAA passed the House, but has not yet moved through the Senate.

Space Force has been the subject of jokes for its perceived adoption of Star Trek imagery, including its seal and logo. In truth, the delta symbol was borrowed from the Air Force, which first used it in 1961, well before the original Star Trek TV show debuted.

While Space Force has already been involved in some rocket launches, it doesn't have any crewed spaceships zipping around. Shatner is just looking ahead to a day when Space Force might have an actual space fleet.

Captain Kirk wrapped up his op-ed with one final, potent plea: "I'm going to say that if you want the public to believe in heroes, that you should adopt the Navy ranks as they are the ones the public is most used to being heroes."

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