This week NASA announced it will band together with the United States Space Force, the newest branch of the United States military, for the future of human spaceflight including for planetary defense and trips to the moon under the Artemis program.
NASA’s goal under Artemis is to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 by utilizing innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than has been accomplished previously. From what is learned on and around the moon, NASA will take the experience to make the next giant leap of sending astronauts to Mars.
As the plans for the unprecedented lunar exploration moves forward, NASA is also building on a new longstanding partnership with the Department of Defense with a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was announced this week by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Space Force (USSF) Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.
The agreement would commit the two organizations to broad collaboration in areas that include human spaceflight, U.S. space policy, space transportation, standards and best practices for safe operations in space, scientific research and notably planetary defense. The latter collaboration isn’t about an “alien invasion” but would entail defense and mitigation of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs), including the subset of near-Earth objects (NEOs), whose orbits predict that they could come within five millions of Earth’s orbit and of a size big enough (thirty to fifty meters) to cause significant damage on Earth.
“NASA’s partnerships are vital to ensuring America continues to lead the world in the peaceful uses of outer space,” NASA’s Bridenstine said in a statement. “This agreement with the U.S. Space Force reaffirms and continues our rich legacy of collaboration with the Defense Department and provides a critical foundation to investigate areas of mutual interest for our distinct civil and defense roles in space.”
The new MOU replaces an agreement that was signed fourteen years ago between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Space Command. Under the prior agreement the two organizations exchanged research and development information, sought to reduce duplication of system development and collaborated in the long-term planning of each organization’s space roadmaps.
“NASA and the military share a long history dating back to the late 1950s; there is power in our partnership,” add Gen. Raymond. “A secure, stable, and accessible space domain underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement. Space Force looks forward to future collaboration, as NASA pushes farther into the universe for the benefit of all.”
This freedom of action in space will provide NASA as well as allied-nation space agencies the ability to explore and discover, while it will also further America’s efforts to return to the moon and then on a subsequent program to bring humans to Mars. The U.S. Space Force will also secure the peaceful use of space through the organizing, training and equipping forces to protect U.S. and allied interests in the domain of space.
Last year President Donald Trump touted the Space Force as “the largest ever investment in the United States Military,” after the White House signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which created the sixth and newest branch of the United States military.
This month the Air Force has also increased efforts to synchronize weapons development, generate interoperability and refine emerging war tactics with the U.S. Space Force, which is part of the Department of the Air Force in the same way that the U.S. Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.