Our mission to help you navigate the new normal is fueled by subscribers. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.
Since President Trump established the U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch in December 2019, the agency has been brunt of some humor—with Netflix going as far as creating a parody show of the same name, starring Steve Carrell.
But as Barbara Barrett, secretary of the U.S. Air Force, would tell you, the Space Force will play a valuable role in the day-to-day lives of Americans.
“Why would you need a Space Force? It’s sensible to ask. When we think about how much of America’s way of life today depends on space, it’s huge,” the Air Force chief—who also oversees the Space Force—said during a panel at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Virtual Summit on Thursday. “I’ve often said, that before your first cup of coffee in the morning, you’ve probably used space. But you may not know about it, you may not have seen the connection. Often your alarm clock may be linked to a GPS system, you may look at the traffic, the weather—all of those are space assets.
“Your power or water is probably connected through space control,” Barrett added. “If you use an ATM, farmers monitor their crops, we’re looking at wildfires through space lenses. Much of what we do today is happening because of space assets.”
While all of these assets may not be directly controlled by the Space Force, Barrett noted the significance of the Space Force being a military branch. “Our space assets were built at a time when we thought it was a time of benevolent environment,” she said. “As my predecessor, Heather Wilson, said, ‘It’s as though we built a glass house before we knew about stones.’ We now have assets upon which we depend, but they are vulnerable, they aren’t protected. So we’re looking at ways to protect them, replace them with things that are more easily and jam-proof.”
Barrett, a trained attorney, counts former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as a mentor and said this week in particular—in which Ruth Bader Ginsberg was laid to rest—was one think about “how much those early women did for others.
“If you can see it, you can be it,” Barrett said. “[O’Connor] inspired me to think that girls can grow up to be women to lead people and establish policy.”
More on the most powerful women in business from Fortune:
- What business needs from the 2020 election
- Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex: “If you listen to what I actually say, it’s not controversial”
- This CEO’s advice for leading during crisis: “Focus on what you can control”
- This advice helped incoming Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser through a pivotal time in her career
- How the pandemic is shaping tech’s approach to education