WASHINGTON — Before the House passed the so-called “Starfleet” amendment, Space Force officials had been internally debating a new rank structure to set the space branch apart from its parent service the U.S. Air Force.

The amendment in the House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Space Force to use the Navy’s rank structure. The proposal will be debated later this year in a House and Senate conference. The Senate would have to support the amendment for it to become law.

Introduced by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL, the amendment got a prominent endorsement from the Starfleet captain himself, William Shatner.

Shatner lit an internet firestorm calling on the U.S. Space Force to adopt the Star Trek naval ranks for its officers and enlisted personnel. In an emoji-filled op-ed in Military Times Shatner said it should be obvious to everyone that space ships are led by captains, not colonels.

Crenshaw on Aug. 25 tweeted to Shatner: “I got you covered. My amendment passed out of the House, and instructs the Space Force to use Navy Ranks. We’ll be working to keep it in the NDAA!”

Space Force officials declined to comment on Shatner’s article or on whether his views might carry any weight with lawmakers .

“We are aware of recent public discussions and opinions on potential naming conventions for ranks in the U.S. Space Force,” Lynn Kirby, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Space Force, said in a statement to SpaceNews.

Kirby said the service “continues to work with our partners in Congress and with space professionals to define the culture and brand that respect our long history and reflect our role in protecting the ultimate high ground. We don’t comment on proposed legislation and will announce Space Force ranks when the decision is final.”

During a Facebook Live event last month, Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, the senior enlisted advisor of the Space Force, said the space service will continue to use the Air Force rank structure until this issue is resolved in the legislative process. If Crenshaw’s amendment becomes law, he said, “we’re ready to execute.”

With the spotlight shining on this issue, the Space Force finds itself in a tough bind having to follow the law but also under pressure from its own ranks to allow the service to built its own identify.

The Starfleet amendment has turned into a polarizing issue inside the Space Force, sources said. Some view the prospect of using naval ranks as an insult that would permanently turn the service into a Star Trek punchline. But the debate has been welcome by many in the space community who worry that the Space Force leadership is not doing enough to break away from the Air Force.

According to sources, Space Force leaders have developed a proposal to use Air Force ranks with a slight change to the chevrons in the uniform and the re-naming of junior enlisted personnel as specialists instead of airmen.

If Navy ranks were adopted, Space Force officers would be ensigns, lieutenants, commanders, captains and admirals. Enlisted personnel would be petty officers and warrant officers.

Air Force officers are second and first lieutenants, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels and generals. Enlisted leaders are staff sergeants and master sergeants.

Critics of the Crenshaw amendment who have posted comments on social media said that if the Space Force were to adopt naval ranks, it should be done of its own accord and not imposed by Congress or celebrities.

Several commenters said they worry that the use of naval ranks in the Space Force is going to deepen the public’s misunderstanding of what the service does, contributing to the widespread misconception that the Space Force is a space fleet that deploys into space.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...