Newt Gingrich: a space cadet with ideas that are out of this world?

By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American. (Newt Gingrich)

It certainly qualifies as a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal for anyone lucky enough not to be fluent in management speak. An injection of ambition and cash into the state space industry would be a big sweetener to people listening to Newt Gingrich’s message at his Florida campaign rally.

We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing, 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.

But does the US have that kind of money to spare given the economic conditions and the problems it faces down on Earth? In the Telegraph, Ed West argues that Newt Skywalker’s idea is inspired rather than foolish:

Then there is the money; a manned mission to Mars, which would be the next logical step, is estimated to cost in the region of $450 billion, which is quite a lot. But put it in perspective: the total cost for American taxpayers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was recently estimated to be between $3.2 and $4 trillion. And on welfare, one think-tank estimates that Barack Obama’s various programmes will cost a staggering $10.3 trillion over a decade.

However, the return on investment of establishing a moonbase is going to be small … unless someone opens a tuck shop and alien species queue up to buy coke and fries! Monetising the research discoveries made in space is likely to be slow. And eight years is a short time in which to develop, design and test an enormous range of kit to create a moonbase, never mid transport it up there. As Ed West notes:

… after the retirement of the US space shuttle fleet, NASA can’t even get to the International Space Station alone, let alone 250,000 miles away.

Perhaps Newt’s answer to his doubters – which include fellow candidate Mitt Romney – should be to look across the border and enlist the help of two Canadian 17 year olds.

Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad sent a Styrofoam capsule carrying a Lego figure holding a Canadian flag 24km up into space – that’s “three times the typical cruising altitude of a commercial aircraft”. Lifted by a weather balloon and carrying four cameras (including a GoPro) and a mobile phone that sent out its GPS position when it was within 7km of the ground (particularly critical to help find the device when it returned 97 minutes later!), the home made space vehicle even had a home-made parachute to soften its landing. Check out the article in the Toronto Star for more details.

Maybe a couple of teenage Canadians could inspire the US to the moon … and beyond?

  • Greenflag

    ‘we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.’

    Thus sayeth the Grinchrich.Why then must the USA rely on the Russians to take them to the ISS ?

    As for ‘never ‘coming close ? Does Newt remember who launched the first space satellite ?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Two things. First, under Clinton, a more environmentally friendly but less effective foam was selected for protecting the main fuel tank. Second, the fleet was retired by Obama before there was an adequate substitute beyond hitching a ride in Soyuz system, whose efficacy has been a little hit or miss.

    After the first shuttle disaster, I would have thought political correctness would have been tossed out the window.

    I don’t know if retiring the shuttles was the right thing to do — I know that airplanes require constant inspection for, among other things, stress cracks and metal fatigue. The stresses on the shuttle would be obviously greater than, say, a C-130 or a B-52.

  • Its not a “goal”……hairy, audacious or any other kind of goal.
    It is like everything else in American politics……..a gesture.
    And actually one that Gingrich does not to do anything about. And his supporters dont actually expect him to do anything.
    First off he get the nomination……it helps him cos hes standing up for USA USA USA.
    Then he has to get elected President.
    Maybe he will.

    Then four years later he has to get elected. It doesnt matter that USA are not on the Moon……..cos it was a manifesto promise for 8 years.
    In second term he can close down NASA and turn the area into a concentration camp……because a manifesto promise with the words “by the end of my second term is meaningless” cos he cant stand for a third term to be judged on it.

    Anyway, the Chinese might not lend the Americans the money to build a rocket.

  • USA

    Sorry if this is a bit off topic but I just wanted to state for the record that I am of the opinion the wheels will begin to fall off the Gingrich bandwagon at the vote in Florida next Tuesday.

    I feel pretty sure Romney will probably win by at least 5 or 6 percentage points and possibly more.

  • John McCain is reported as saying that his Newtness should be sent to the moon and Romney sent to the Whitehouse.

  • tuatha

    Perhaps Moonface’s base could be used instead of Gitmo?
    If one of the current Repugs running is elected Prez there will a lot more wars and need to extraordinarily render beyond legal protection. I doubt that even the sacred Constitution could be said to extend off world.

  • Alias

    There is no harm in thinking big if you have the budget to back it. and if you can make a case that the spin-offs from the R&D will make it all self-financing but, despite the hype and the undoubted spin-offs, even the original Apollo mission was not self-financing for the US economy.

    And what spin-offs could there be this time around? We already have the circuit boards and the chips.

    This might impress big business in Florida but I doubt the rest of the US will be too happy about it. The appeal of Newt is that he will aim for a balance budget, and this counters his strongest selling point.

  • tuatha

    Asinity aside, there IS a good case to be made for a permanent base.
    With no atmosphere, the solar power would be orders of magnitude more viable than down here under all this nasty oxygen & water vapour.
    It’s well known that the Moon is made of the same stuff as this planet (apart from organic carbon and a couple of trace elements – thus no roses, peonies or orchids in the first weeks) so, with unlimited energy (and no pollution problems) the transmutation of elements into useful compounds would be simple philately – as physicists once denigrated that discipline.
    I’m far more interested in why the Moon, a sixth the sixth the mass of the Earth, has only a tenth of its gravity.
    And that very strange coincidence that its rotation is exactly 28.25 days so that only the same hemisphere shows as it circles the Earth.
    And is exactly 372 times smaller than the Sun, so that, occasionally there is a total eclipse. Funny dat.

  • tuatha ,

    A simple google search will give you the answers you want.
    As a sample:
    Mass is proportional to the cube of the diameter whereas gravitational attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the centres of the masses.
    The earth and the moon are tidally enjoined. The rotation wasn’t always exactly the same as the orbital period.
    The moon was once closer to the earth and eclipses lasted longer. It is slowly moving away from us so sometime in the future there will not be total eclipses, just annular ones.

  • Devil Eire

    Tuatha,

    I’m far more interested in why the Moon, a sixth the sixth the mass of the Earth, has only a tenth of its gravity.

    Your data are wrong. The Moon’s mass is around 1.2% that of the Earth and its radius is around 0.27 that of the Earth.

    The rate of acceleration due to gravity for a body on the surface of the Earth (say) is proportional to the mass of the Earth divided by the square of its radius.

    So, the acceleration due to gravity on the surface of the Earth compared to that of the Moon is (Earth_mass/Earth_radius_squared) divided by (Moon_mass/Moon_radius_squared), or roughly (0.27 x 0.27)/0.012 = 6

    For an object of a given mass, its weight on Earth is thus 6 times that of its weight on the Moon.