Reactions online were mixed when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently filed for a solicitation for a small quantity of AR-15s. In the solicitation, NASA requested a lightweight, 5.56mm, magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic rifle. Those making comments balked at the idea of NASA’s need for “assault rifles” or poked fun at a militarized moonbase.

However, the rifles most likely are intended for NASA’s emergency response team (ERT). The ERT is active on at least one of NASA’s sites, namely, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Dating back to 1979, NASA operators have been in charge of the safety of staff and billions of dollars’ worth of tech.

ERT officers are members of a tight-knit team, specially trained in special weapons and tactics or SWAT. Responsibilities of the ERT include emergency situations such as hostage and victim rescue, terrorist aggression, workplace violence, active shooter, and hostage negotiation.

Each officer is required to operate as a member of an organized ERT with the goal of supporting emergency response operations. After passing the required NASA Federal Arrest Authority and, if necessary, an additional Federal Magistrate Program Training, the officer will function as a law enforcement officer and have arrest and apprehension authority on the KSC installation.

So, what does it take to become a member of this elite unit? Well, it’s not easy, since NASA’s SWAT team finishes consistently in the top five of the annual SWAT Roundup International – a competition with 55 teams. Members of the team are hired by the Chenega Corporation and a recent job-posting gives a glimpse of the requirements necessary:

  • 1.5-mile run within 12 minutes and 30 seconds
  • 41 push-ups within 1 minute
  • 41 sit-ups within 1 minute
  • 5 pull-ups (full extension) within 1 minute
  • Complete the Defense Tactics station within 8 minutes and 30 seconds

The weapons qualifications necessary are:

  • Pass handgun with a 90 or higher
  • Pass shotgun with 90 or higher
  • Pass rifle or sub-machine gun with 90 or higher

Team members train around eight hours a week to keep their skills sharp and conduct an annual 88-hour Basic Tactical Operator Course. “This course is mandatory for all newly assigned or hired SWAT officers, and is open to law enforcement and military personnel from outside agencies,” William Young, ERT commander and assistant chief of operations stated to NASA.

NASA’s SWAT team is not often mentioned in the same breath as other special law enforcement units around. Yet, its training regiment, stellar record and achievements in competitions speak for themselves. NASA’s mantra therefore fits this team to a tee: For the Benefit of All.