The northernmost U.S. military base in the world has a new name, and it’s even harder to pronounce than the old one: Thule Air Base was renamed Pituffik Space Base on April 6.
Pronounced “Bee-doo-FEEK,” the new moniker reflects the Inuit native people’s name for the settlement where the Greenland base was built and recognizes the base’s primary role in support of space missions.
Located nearly 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Pituffik has been home to U.S. Air Force personnel since the early 1950s, where its strategic location makes it vital to missile defense and space domain awareness. Pituffik hosts the 12th Space Warning Squadron and its Upgraded Early Warning Radar, and Detachment 1 of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, which does telemetry, tracking, and controls dozens of satellites.
Pituffik’s original Inuit residents were forcibly relocated in 1953, a history that remains controversial in Greenland to this day.
The base’s former name, Thule, came from explorer Knud Rasmussen early in the 20th century, a reference to Greek and Roman maps that cited a mysterious northern island called “ultima Thule”—named for an ancient Greek explorer who sailed far north and landed on an island whose name he heard as “Thule.”
“This renaming represents our wish to celebrate and acknowledge the rich cultural heritage of Greenland and its people and how important they are to the sustainment of this installation against the harsh environment north of the Arctic Circle,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Satlzman said at a ceremony unveiling the name change.
Greenlandic Minister for Foreign Affairs, Business, and Trade Vivian Motzfeldt attended the ceremony and hailed the change as important for Greenlandic culture.
“With the decision to rename, the U.S. has demonstrated its respect to the friendship between us, recognizing cultural heritage, and the history of the base,” Motzfeldt. “I hope that this day will serve as an example of the ability of great nations to listen to even their smallest neighbors. … Today 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.”
About 140 Airmen and Guardians are stationed at Pituffik, plus some 450 contractors, civilians, and military personnel representing Denmark, Canada, and Greenland. The base is completely locked in by ice and mostly shrouded in darkness for nine months out of the year.
Pituffik got some rare public attention in the past year, hosting late night TV host and comedian Stephen Colbert for a special in December and F-35 fighters, which landed there for the first time in January.
Pituffik is the latest Space Force installation to be renamed. Others include:
- Peterson Space Force Base, Colo.
- Buckley Space Force Base, Colo.
- Schriever Space Force Base, Colo.
- Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station, Colo.
- Patrick Space Force Base, Fla.
- Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla.
- Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif.
- Cape Cod Space Force Station, Mass.
- Cavalier Space Force Station, N.D.
- New Boston Space Force Station, N.H.
- Clear Space Force Station, Alaska
- Kaena Point Space Force Station, Hawaii
Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., which hosts Space Systems Command, is expected to be renamed, as well. No word yet, though, on when that might happen.