By Katherine Mangu-Ward
Yesterday, GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich dropped some "grandiose" thoughts about space policy on an eager Cocoa, Florida, audience. Among his proposals:
By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent based on the moon. And it will be American.
We will have commercial near-Earth activities—that includes science, tourism, and manufacturing—that are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s. Because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.
By the end of 2020, we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time, because I am sick of being told that we have to be timid and I am sick of being told that we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old.
(See the video here.)
There's a reason Newt is talking space right now: Florida is the state to win, and Florida has a lot of NASA-dependent jobs that are currently in jeopardy due to the end of the shuttle program and shifting priorities in space. Which means his implicit message is one of big government spending on a big government program. By all accounts of the speech, Gingrich conveniently neglected to mention how his moon base and Mars mission were going to be funded.
But many of his explicit points were excellent—and consistent with the current push for more reliance on the private sector—especially the 10 percent of NASA's budget he proposed setting aside for prizes to encourage private spending and innovation. But will Newt break the NASA-national greatness connection that congressional Republicans hold so dear? Probably not.
Gingrich isn't a newcomer to this issue. He has been geeking out on space for a long time. He even founded the congressional Space Caucus. And in this month's print edition, Rand Simberg names Gingrich as a star that might align to produce decent space policy:
Can space policy be fixed? Not without the national will to do so. It would take either real visionaries making policy decisions or some sort of existential crisis (e.g., an asteroid with our number on it) to break out of the policy logjam. But the chances of the former are not as low as one might think. Had Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) not switched parties seven years ago while being allowed to keep his seniority, the 88-year-old defender of the status quo would not be the current chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Instead the chairmanship would have fallen to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who has defended the administration’s space policy. Rohrabacher will almost certainly take over when Hall retires or is term-limited out in five years. If Newt Gingrich by some miracle wins the GOP presidential nomination and the White House, he would be the most space-conversant commander in chief in American history. So the stars might yet align.
In the speech, Newt cops to the weirdest space thing he's ever done: proposing a Northwest Ordinance for the moon—if ol' Luna gets 13,000 residents it become eligible for statehood. But earlier this month, before Newt was much more than a presidential punchline, Mother Jones dug up an arguably weirder interest: Sex in space.
in his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity (and again in his 1994 book, To Renew America), he suggested that private space flight would open up business opportunities for space tourism—specifically for honeymooning couples. As he put it: "Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attraction."