An increasing interest in space by partner nations in South America may prove beneficial to the U.S. Southern Command mission there, said its commander.
Recently, Army Gen. Laura Richardson, Southcom's commander, spent time with Bill Nelson, NASA's administrator, during his trip though South America. According to NASA, Nelson visited Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.
Four nations in Southcom are part of the NASA-led Artemis Accords — Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. Globally, nearly 30 nations are now involved in the program, which, in part, aims to again put humans on the moon and, later, on Mars.
Argentina signed on to the Artemis Accords during Nelson's most-recent visit, Richardson said, and Colombia signed on last year. She said those nations have robust space programs, and the U.S. is glad to partner with them on their efforts.
"All of these countries have huge space programs," Richardson said during a discussion Friday with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "And having our NASA administrator be able to come there and talk about more collaboration, what NASA is doing, what they are doing, how can we collaborate better together … we are only limited by the ideas that we come up with of how we can collaborate better together."
China already has space capabilities in South America. The Defense Department describes China as a "pacing challenge" and strategic competitor. China's presence so close to the U.S. is a risk to U.S. security, and it's something Richardson said new partnerships like those forged through Artemis can push back on.
"That's how we out-compete our adversaries … like-minded democracies working together on collaborative ideas to make things happen," Richardson said.
In Colombia, Richardson said, one of the top priorities of President Gustavo Petro is climate change. Partnerships in space can help that nation and others advance efforts related to climate, she said.
"Space has a number of different things that are going on to help countries identify problems from space — with agriculture, for example," she said. "And, so, as you think of the drought corridor in this region — a 1,000-mile drought corridor — you're talking about food insecurity. How can we change that? How can we change disease in crops [and] identify it?"
Deforestation is also impacting the Amazon rainforest, which she called "the lungs of the world." Those problems and others that present security challenges in Southcom — including illegal mining and illegal logging operations — can be identified from space, she said. And that information can be shared among partner nations in the region.
Richardson also said that while in Colombia, Nelson offered to train a Colombian astronaut as part of NASA's international program, and, then, to put that astronaut into space.
She said similar opportunities might also be available to other nations in Southcom that are part of the Artemis Accords program.