U.S. air base in Greenland gets new name inspired by Inuit language

From left to right, Col. Brian Capps, 821st Space Base Group commander, Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force Gen. Chance Saltzman, Greenlandic Minister Affairs, Business and Trade Vivian Motzfeldt, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark Alan Leventhal and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Clark, 821st Space Group command chief, unveil the new base sign during the base renaming ceremony, at Pituffik Space Base, Greenland, April 6, 2023. (Senior Airman Kaitlin Castillo)

Thule Air Base in Greenland, the U.S.’s northernmost military installation, has been renamed Pituffik Space Base.

U.S. officials says the new name is an important nod both to the base’s ties to Greenland and its people, as well as its importance within the U.S. Space Force.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the people of Greenland and Denmark for their partnership and friendship over the years,” Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force Gen. Chance Saltzman, said in a news release.

“Today marks a new chapter in our shared history, one in which we recognize and celebrate the contributions and traditions of this land and its people. Together the men and women of Pituffik Space Base and our Greenlandic and Danish partners will ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous future both in space and above the Arctic Circle.”

Example of a “great nation” listening to “even their smallest neighbors,” says Greenland’s FM

A file photo of Pituffik Space Base. (USACE)

Greenland’s Foreign Affairs Business, and Trade Minister Vivian Motzfeldt attended the April 6 renaming ceremony at the base along with the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Alan Leventhal.

“I hope that this day will serve as an example of the ability of great nations to listen to even their smallest neighbors,” Motzfeldt said.

The U.S. has proclaimed to the world, that here lies Pituffik Space Base, where even this far north, there is a people, and they have a name for the place from where we keep watch over all our peoples.”

Leventhal said the ceremony highlighted decades of U.S., Greenlandic and Danish cooperation in the North. 

“For seventy years, Thule Air Force Base has maintained peace in the Arctic, it’s conducted scientific research, it’s been part of the community,” he said in a video address posted on Twitter.

The base is located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the northwestern coast of Greenland.

The establishment of the base goes back to the Cold War when it was constructed in secret starting in 1951. It was completed in 1953.

The site was chosen because it was at the mid-point between New York and Moscow and was the quickest way between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the North Pole.

A Greenlander with his dog sleigh looks at the radars at Thule Air Base in Northern Greenland in 1966. (NF/AFP via Getty Images)

Nowadays, the base supports space-based missions, has a deep-water port and a 10,000 foot runway.

The U.S. Space Force was established in 2019 and is organized under the Department of the Air Force.

The space force’s mission is to focus on protecting American and allied interests in space,by training, equipping and  providing space-related services to other parts of the military.

When it was created, the Department of Defense announced that Air Force installations would be reviewed, and like Thule Air Base was this month, be redesignated as Space Force bases.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canadian military says it has tracked, stopped China surveillance in Arctic waters, The Canadian Press

FinlandNorway, Finland, Sweden prioritize North in updated statement, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway buys 54 Leopards for protection of the North, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Putin’s hope for Sarmat missile launch from Plesetsk failed, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Kiruna pivots from underground to outer space, Blog by Mia Bennett

United States: U.S. Coast Guard talks Arctic at recent summit, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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