By Brandon O'ConnorSeptember 27, 2018
By Brandon O'Connor
Pointer View Assistant Editor
The U.S. Military Academy is training cadets to be the future leaders of the Army and through the Space Science major in the Physics and Nuclear Engineering Department, cadets are learning how to conquer a new frontier important to the Army.
There are currently 19 Class of 2020 cadets serving as the inaugural class of Space Science majors at West Point. Through their major coursework, they will learn how to best assist the Army in the use of its space assets, including how things move in space, how items such as satellites get into space and more.
"The first class they are taking right now, astronautics, is a combination of why do we use space and orbital mechanics, so how do we move in space," Lt. Col. Diana Loucks, the program director for the Space Science Program, said. "Then, we talk about how we get to space. We look at launch windows and a little bit of rocketry. Then, we look at what we put in space. So, what satellites are made of to the bus, the computer system and communications to how it actually moves and positions itself in space so it can do its mission."
The Space Science major grew out of the interdisciplinary science major, which started in 2007. Originally, cadets were able to focus on chemistry, physics or biology, but Class of 2018 and 2019 cadets also had the option of focusing on astronautics. Although much of it is the same, Loucks said the astronautics track was further expanded into the Space Science major available starting with the Class of 2020.
"This started a little over a decade ago. Back in 2009, Space and Missile Defense Command established the research and analysis center here. Close to a decade ago, our department had recognized the need and the value of space and it has grown ever since then," Loucks said. "Space operations as a functionary started back in '97 or '98 and it has blossomed ever since. The program across the Army and the program here recognize the need for not just space operators in the Army, but people who understood the application of space across the Army and the services."
Although they freely admit they are the "Guinea Pigs" for the new major that is still growing, the initial Space Science majors had the chance to learn firsthand how valuable those skills will be during an 80-hour Space Military Individual Advanced Development course they participated in over the summer at West Point.
"We learned a lot over the summer at the Space MIAD about how satellites impact the warfighter every day. Whether that is updating blue force trackers about where IEDs are or using thermal imaging to spot enemies. It is definitely applicable," Class of 2020 Cadet Ty Amison said. "The first half is unclassified and you get the general basis, terminology and knowledge of everything. The second phase is classified information where we get to see what we are actually using our space assets for."
While in the Space Science major, cadets take courses including physics, astronautics and astronomy. They also have the chance to do research with GPS systems, high altitude balloon satellites, on solar flares and more.
"What made me decide to enter the Space Science major is the ability to learn what is out there," Class of 2020 Cadet Donavan Lynch said. "Planets are really interesting to me. I first fell in love with it in high school and here at West Point, I was able to talk to Shane Kimbrough, he's an astronaut. Just seeing the look in his eyes of how beautiful outer space is and looking down on earth blew me away."
The creation of the designated Space Science major within PANE has given cadets such as Lynch and his classmates who had a prior interest in space the chance to gain knowledge in the field and apply what they learn to assisting the Army in a field constantly growing in importance.
"I have always had an interest in space," Class of 2020 Cadet Caz Lewis said. "When I came here, I wasn't completely sure about my major because there wasn't something I was specifically interested in. Then, they announced the Space Science major was going to be a thing for our class so I was super excited and knew exactly what I wanted.
"I did the Space MIAD over the summer and we learned how the assets we have in space affect the Soldiers we have on the ground and how important it is to know exactly where we have things in space so we can use them to the best of our ability," Lewis added.
Cadets who graduate from the Space Science major won't be able to enter into the Army Space and Missile Defense Command directly after graduation. But even as they serve the branches they join after West Point, Loucks said their knowledge of space will be invaluable in the field.
"One of the things people don't necessarily realize is when an Army unit deploys and they go to the field or Afghanistan and you look at a brigade combat team and its footprint, inside of a unit that has roughly 3-5,000 Soldiers, there are about 3,000 pieces of space enabled equipment," she said. "Anything from missiles to radios, guidance systems, radars, weather systems, they are all space enabled in some form or fashion."