A moon base? Tried that

NASA

Newt Gingrich’s space plan may not be quite as grandiose as he thinks.

In characteristic fashion, Gingrich compared his ideas for a moon base to acts by Abraham Lincoln, the Wright brothers, and John F. Kennedy, but the lofty goal was not far beyond one established by a much more contemporary leader: George W. Bush.

During a campaign speech in Florida on Wednesday, Gingrich put his own unique spin on his promise to have a moon base by the end of his second term as president: He called for a solely American colony with the potential to become a 51st state, and he proposed a series of contests to encourage private industry to pay for it.

The U.S. is no closer to having a colony on the moon than it was when the last astronauts left in 1972, but it’s not for a lack of thinking about it. Until 2010, a moon base was exactly what NASA was working toward.

In 2004, President Bush, who compared his plan to the voyages of Lewis and Clark, proposed returning to the moon by 2020 (which, coincidentally, would roughly coincide with the end of a two-term Gingrich presidency), calling it a “logical step toward further progress and achievement.”

“With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond,” Bush said in a 2004 speech at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Bush’s thinking was based not only on the scientific benefits of such a base, but on what he saw as the cost savings of having a presence on the moon. Bush planned to pay for the effort with savings from other programs, such as the space shuttle, which were ending.

And Bush's plan was more than just words. His speech helped lead to the official launch of the Constellation program, which was developed after the deadly 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia. But costs soared, and the timeline became uncertain.

Finally, six years and more than $9 billion later, Bush’s plan to “gain a new foothold on the moon” came face to face with the reality of government budgets, and a new Democratic administration. In a speech of his own in 2010, President Obama shelved the moon mission in favor of robotic missions, with an eye on eventual travel to Mars.

Republicans have criticized that decision, as well as the end of the shuttle program (a decision actually made by Bush), but the desire to confirm America’s dominance in space has been undermined by efforts to slash government spending.

As Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation, has pointed out, “The mastery of space has always carried with it a not-so-subtle message to friend and foe: This is what we are capable of…. You do not want to challenge us.”

That’s a message that resonates with conservatives who have blasted Obama’s perceived retreat from space. And that’s a message that Gingrich repeated on Wednesday.

"I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I'm sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old," he told the Florida crowd. "I accept the charge that I am American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future."

Even Gingrich’s "lean and aggressive" proposal for a series of government incentives and prizes to help drum up private investment in his space programs has companionship in Obama’s more-limited efforts to increase private-sector resources to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

In Congress, traditional supporters from states like Florida and Alabama have been divided in their support for more funding. Meanwhile, last year Obama’s budget proposals froze NASA’s budget at 2010 levels while House Republicans called for up to $379 million in cuts.

While any plans to expand space programs play well in Florida, hard-hit by the end of the shuttle program, it’s not clear that there is the national commitment necessary to put humans on the moon in any particularly quick fashion. In Washington and the country at large, a President Gingrich could find himself hampered by the same competing interests that have left NASA in limbo.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.