The United States Space Force has a new recruit in their mission to keep planet Earth safe. His name is Ghost, and he likes to go clip-clop on the beach.
Ghost, a 5-year-old mustang, is the newest addition to the Conservation Military Working Horse program, which the Space Force recently inherited from the U.S. Air Force. According to a video tweeted by the Space Force, Ghost just joined a stable of four Military Working Horses at Vandenberg Air Force Base — a 99,600-acre (40,306 hectares) chunk of land on the California coast. (That's roughly 100 times the size of Central Park in New York.)
Let's just get this out of the way: No, Ghost is not going into space. Horses are notoriously bad at operating computers, and NASA has had enough trouble sizing their space suits for bipeds lately. Nor is Ghost being trained for combat, despite his cool military credentials.
So, how does Ghost spend his workdays, if not dreaming of the stars or distant shores? According to Staff Sgt. Michael Terrazas, manager of the Military Working Horse Program and one of Ghost's handlers, Ghost is sort of a quadrupedal conservation cop. Ghost and his equine colleagues help the human members of the Working Horse program traverse the vast hills and beaches of Vandenburg, keeping an eye on the area's many protected species and any intruders that might pose a threat to them.
"We enforce fish and game laws, and the horses help us walk off the beaten path to complete our mission," Terrazas said in a 2019 news release (before the Space Force took ownership of the program). "We have even responded to lost hunters and hurt animals."
According to the Vandenburg website, 15 endangered or threatened species live within the base's borders. When patrolling the base's far corners with motor vehicles proves too difficult, program members turn to the horses. Ghost has a smaller ecological footprint than an ATV, Terrazas said, making the horses crucial to accomplishing environmentally friendly patrols.
Like an astronaut, Ghost is undergoing rigorous training before he can go full-time, currently riding three times a week with a personal trainer. Cleaning up beaches and writing citations for hunters might not be as romantic as exploring the Horsehead nebula, but it's arguably even more important work. Way to go, Ghost! That's four small steps for horse-kind.
Originally published on Live Science.