Thursday, January 26, 2012

Short Sharp Science - Newt 'Lightyear' Gingrich promises moon base by 2020

David Shiga, reporter
The promised land? (NASA/Science Photo Library)

Newt Gingrich - who already goes by the nickname Newt Skywalker - says he will get a moon base built by the end of 2020 if he is elected president. First, of course, he'll need to develop a viable way of getting there - with the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, NASA doesn't even have a way of getting to the International Space Station on its own.
Gingrich made the moon base pledge in a speech in Cocoa, Florida, while campaigning to become the Republican Party's nominee for president.
After complaining that NASA is moving too slowly and inefficiently, he said he wanted to see a bolder course of action. Perhaps Newt Lightyear is a better nickname for the former House speaker.
"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," he said.
Gingrich said that he would like to eventually see a colony established on the moon, though he did not give a timeline for achieving it. 
He added that he had once proposed legislation that would allow a moon colony of at least 13,000 Americans to petition to become a US state, and that he still supported the idea. I don't recall, incidentally, what the proposed state would be called - perhaps readers could suggest names in the comments below.
In any case, the Gingrich plan faces some difficult - some might say insurmountable - hurdles. Under George W Bush, NASA was trying to build a moon base by 2020, but a panel of experts appointed by the Obama administration in 2009 said in a report that it would take much longer and cost more than initially estimated - and Obama eventually canned the idea.
By the end of 2020, Gingrich said he would also have a fast vehicle developed to send astronauts to Mars. "I'm sick of being told that we have to be timid and have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old," he said.
Previous estimates for the price of a manned mission to Mars have been in the hundreds of billions - "something like $450 billion" he said. But he said he would get the necessary technology developed largely by setting up prizes worth $10 billion.
"And if somebody figures it out we save $440 billion," Gingrich said. "If they don't figure it out, it didn't cost us anything."
Gingrich complained that NASA was spending too much time studying things rather than building and testing technologies. "We'd be better off to do 1 percent of the current studies and 10 times as many experiments," he said.
Gingrich has a longstanding interesting in space and technology and has expressed enthusiasm for a lunar colony before - something that rival Mitt Romney criticised in December, saying it would be "a problem" for Gingrich in a general election.
The latest figures show Gingrich and Romney are neck and neck ahead of the final presidential debate in Florida.

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