On Wednesday (January 25, 2012), Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich visited Florida’s space coast, the region surrounding the Kennedy Space Center, and gave a speech about the current state of the American space program. He called it an embarrassment, citing the current arrangement to fly US astronauts on Russian space craft, and explained his bold vision for how to fix it.
Gingrich’s three main goals were to establish a base on the Moon, create more Near Earth activity (including science, tourism, and manufacturing in space), and develop a continuous propulsion spacecraft capable of reaching Mars. He called for NASA to change its bureaucratic ways and for private enterprise to take on more of the burden of space flight. He also said he wants space launches to become routine. He wants to see five to eight launches a day.
As for that Moon base, which he plans to establish by the end of his second term, he wants to allow American citizens living on the Moon to petition Congress to become a state once the lunar population reaches 13,000. I would prefer to see the Moon base as a project of international cooperation, like the I.S.S., but I understand Gingrich’s thinking. He says he wants young Americans to dream of being one of those 13,000 lunar pioneers so that they’ll want to study math and science, and they’ll want to take part in this new space race.
I have some problems with Gingrich and his policies, but he and I have at least one thing in common. He described his romantic belief that our destiny is in space, a belief shaped in part by science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov. I share his belief, and I am also a fan of Asimov.
I’m not saying I’ll vote for him, and I’m not advocating that you should or should not vote for him either. Space policy is one of many issues to consider when choosing a president, but I find it refreshing and even exciting to hear a major presidential candidate talk about returning to the Moon and going to Mars.
In last night’s GOP debate, it seemed clear none of the other Republican candidates know or care to know much about space. That was disappointing. If Gingrich does become the Republican nominee, it would be interesting to see him and President Obama debate the current and future state of the American space program.
Click here to see Gingrich’s full speech on C-SPAN.