REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama - "Space" cadets prepare to spearhead the Army of the future.

U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command leaders visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 2-3 to visit with cadets who will soon graduate with the USMA's first space majors and minors.

"West Point is preparing some of our best Soldiers to understand space as an Army equity, how it is integrated and how the science behind the things we do on a day-to-day basis operates," said Richard De Fatta, director, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Future Warfare Center. "Army is the biggest user of space capabilities, so having our Soldiers understand how that works and how they can apply that to their day-to-day operations when they become second lieutenants is very important to us. Having cadets understand space and the science behind space will allow them to go off and actually train themselves and their formations on how important space is."

While at West Point, De Fatta and Lt. Gen. James H. Dickinson, SMDC commanding general, attended the academy's 20th annual Projects Day, which is designed to inspire cadets to pursue excellence through innovative approaches to learning while conducting meaningful research for the Army, nation and the academy. More than 400 capstone projects were featured at Projects Day.

SMDC sponsors a facility at West Point called the Space and Missile Defense Command Research and Analysis Center, or SMDC-RAC, which sponsors several cadet projects. The SMDC-RAC serves as the interface between SMDC and USMA to connect research that directly supports SMDC with the intellectual capital of cadets and facilities at the academy.

"We sponsor numerous projects, in some cases with money and others with moral support as they accomplish tasks we ask them to do," De Fatta said. "We had a great visit where we saw approximately 25 separate projects. We saw some very enthusiastic cadets and their projects that supported many of our technology areas and activities. We saw projects dealing with small satellites, directed energy, launch concepts, tactical imagery, camouflage, astronomy and space science."

After Projects Day, Dickinson and De Fatta conducted space physics discussions with cadets in space majors and minors in upcoming graduating classes.

"There are a lot of very enthusiastic and interested 'space' cadets who have an interest in going into space as a functional area in the future," De Fatta said. "Not all of them want to go into a space branch or necessarily make that their lifelong career, but they are very interested in what we are doing in space."

Cadet Timothy Donnellon then said the academy's newest major will benefit the Army and future leaders as they prepare for future contingencies.

"The program provides a very solid physics foundation while also exposing us to the more technological side of space-related operations, namely geographic information science," Donnellon said. "Personally, my favorite part of the program, much like many here at West Point, has been the instructors. The instructors I've had have always been amazing. They truly care about us and the subject they teach, and all of them have a deep breadth of experience, which they're willing to tell us about.

"It is very exciting to be on the ground floor of West Point's newest academic major," he added. "I believe that it will be an extremely relevant academic major in the near future, especially with the emphasis that has already been placed on the domain of space. This knowledge, combined with the leadership experience that West Point creates, will certainly put us in an advantageous spot in the future."

Donnellon also said the career field could be a good first step in qualifying to become an Army astronaut in the future. He said he interned at the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center in Texas during the summer before his third year at West Point.

"This academic major will lay the foundation I need to better prepare myself for the opportunity to be selected as an Army astronaut," Donnellon said. "The classes are certainly the toughest part about the program. While interesting, they require a lot of work if you truly wish to excel. Besides classes, just figuring out how to balance all the different requirements that I have at West Point has been the greatest challenge."

One cadet said one of the best parts about coming to West Point is not knowing 100 percent of what he would be getting into. He said it allows cadets to adapt to the needs of West Point and to really discover themselves once they are here.

"I had no idea what I wanted to study before coming to West Point, said Cadet Seth Barbrow. "Once here however, I discovered all these opportunities that eventually led me to join the space science program. Although this program focuses on space weather, atmospheric conditions and physics, there are practical implications that can be applied to the everyday warfighter. Every Soldier will rely on communication and navigation, both of which can be influenced by the ever-changing weather of space."

He said it is exciting to be on the ground floor of West Point's newest academic major, and that he thinks it will attract a different caliber of student who is ready for the challenge to excel in the space field.

"Being on the ground floor of West Point's newest academic major is very important," Barbrow said. "Our actions within the courses will help drive the program for future cadets. I think we have great officers in charge who have been very involved and excited about our cadet experience, which has motivated many students to pursue research and further space studies.

"One of my biggest challenges, which I am sure my academic adviser can attest to, is trying to fit as many opportunities that I can into my four years here at West Point," he added. "West Point and the space science program offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study a subject usually reserved to the graduate level. However, I think implementing this program at the academy was the right choice."

Barbrow then explained how the program will help future cadets achieve the dream of becoming an Army astronaut and assist them in achieving that goal.

"I think every kid dreams of being an astronaut, and it is great that I am a part of an organization that can help me achieve that dream," Barbrow said. "This program is a very broad program and serves as a stepping block to diving deeper into the field."

Another cadet whose majors are physics and psychology and is conducting research in space science said that if the space major track was offered when he was a plebe, he would have a lot of classmates who would have jumped at the chance to participate.

"In light of both historical and recent events, a space science program is overdue at West Point," said Cadet Rachel Dodaro. "This is the first time that cadets have been exposed to the nature of space-based operations. Space-focused research is one area in which cadets can have a direct impact on the larger Army. A lot of the projects in the space science program are new projects designed to tackle current Army space challenges.

"Working with the space program at West Point has helped prepare me for working in some sort of military space operations," she added. "I have learned a lot about the various factors that must be considered when dealing with space programs. I have also learned general research techniques in support of space-based military assets."