During his campaigning across Florida, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has promised a permanent base on the Moon by the completion of his second term, along with a $10 billion prize for Mars exploration, and various other shiny prizes for the state. It has generated a burst of discussion within the space community. However, supporters within the Tea Party in Space are wondering about the details while the other candidates think the ideas being discussed are fiscally sound or justifiable.
Space policy was first introduced into the Florida primaries at a January 23 debate hosted by NBC at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Gingrich said the government should offer cash prizes for space exploration.
"...[I]f we had a series of goals that we were prepared to offer prizes for, there’s every reason to believe that you'd have a lot of folks in this country and around the world who would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the Space Coast literally hum with activity because they’d be drawn to achieve these prizes: going back to the moon permanently, getting to Mars as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space,” Gingrich said.
In follow-up speeches and debates, Gingrich offered a "grandiose" vision for American space activities, including dedicating 10 percent of NASA's budget for prizes, a $10 billion tax free prize for reaching Mars, a permanent base on the moon by the end of his second term as President, and the ability to conduct between five to eight launches a day at NASA facilities "instead of one." Once there are 13,000 Americans living on the moon, they can petition to become a state.
NASA's 2011 budget was around $18 billion, so it isn't clear where the money for a $10 billion Mars prize comes from. The agency is already scrambling to fund an over-budget next-generation space telescope, the heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), and has had to slow commercial manned spacecraft development because Congress won't put up enough seed money to accelerate the process.
Tea Party in Space President Andrew Glasser loves Newt's vision, but writes Gingrich needs to explain and articulate his ideas, including how more jobs will be created.
Gingrich's Republican opponents have been far less kind. Mitt Romney called the idea of a permanent lunar base by 2020 "an enormous expense" and "If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the Moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired. ’ The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the Moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea but it’s not a good idea.” Rick Santorum called Gingrich's space campaign "crass politics" and "not a responsible thing" to promise new programs and big ideas with big budget deficits.
If there's a winner on the moon base question, it might be Ron Paul, who said at last night's debate, “I don’t think we should go to the Moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.”
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Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO. Follow us on Twitter.Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves