Video: Gingrich promises to build a US moon colony

  1. Closed captioning of: Gingrich promises to build a US moon colony

    >>> if there's one thing we've learned about newt gingrich , it is that he likes to dabble in big ideas . now it seems that planet earth is just not big enough. while making a stop in florida last night, newt may have presented one of his biggest ideas to date. a space colony on the moon completed by 2020 , the end of his two-term presidency.

    >> we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be american.

    >> this is not the first time we've heard mr. gingrich visiting outer space on the campaign trail. here he is over the summer when he had this to say.

    >> the you apply the money to incentives for the private sector , we would have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles. what we have had is bureau kra si.

    >> he better start fueling his rockets now. i'm joined by dr. neil tyson and the author of the upcoming book, "space chronicle," i have it in my hand. newt says by the time of his second presidency, because he's easily going to be re-elected, he'll have station on the moon by 2020 . is that possible?

    >> he admitted that's an ambitious goal. the mnay sayers are not the engineers. they recognize that certain ambitions might not be possible. he's going to have to change the nation's understanding and valuation of what sit to embark on those adventures.

    >> given the fact that he wants to destroy government intervention , government bodies , government agencies , is the private sector going to fund a station on the moon?

    >> there's an imbalance here. he recognized the value of entrepreneurship in the landmarks of the birth of aviation and money to stimulate people working out of their garage to advance what became a very important industry. he then went onto say that kennedy speech launched us to the moon. you can't trash government in one sense and praising them in the other without them mentioning it was government. it was a government project that got us to the moon. it's how well-designed is your government agency to accomplish the goal you set forth.

    >> we heard people like richard branson talking up shuttle trips. nothing's happened.

    >> the original title of the

    book was "failure to launch: the dreams and illusions". they said that's too depressing. no they will not advance the space frontier because the frontier of space is expensive. it's dangerous. that's not right for a capital market to value. the history of human exploration is one where government takes the first step. they pay for the first patents. they draw the maps. government paid for columbus voyage and louis and clark. that's who figures out what's going on and then private enterprise comes.

    >> not according to newt gingrich .

    >> he got it wrong. private sector is a participant with nasa on that frontier. i think that can work. i don't have a problem with that. private sector is already a participant, but not at that level.

    >> we know he was speaking in florida . do you think that may have colored somewhat the speech?

    >> a little bit.

    >> would it have the same impact in idaho?

    >> it's easy to give a speech on space in space coast florida bright there in brevard county . engineers scientists, moon launches right out of that county. that speech has to work in idaho. it's got to work in vermont where there aren't nasa centers. at the end of the day it's taxpayer money. you can't just go to the moon and mars because you feel like it because you have a couple of entrepreneurs. there's got to be a politician statement that can justify it. for me it can easily be justified if nasa itself is a force of nature on the heart and minds of the nations. it sends everybody to want to become scientists.

    >> i get that. it's a powerful force in any community. that is a rocket.

    >> back when the country long ago went to the moon in this.

    >> a final question. i guess some of our viewers will be thinking i've got a property that's under water. i can't afford the mortgage, i've lost my job. why is this nman talking about building a space station ?

    >> coming from another direction, if the nation dreams big and that percolates its way through society, the dreams are enabled by prowless in science. once everybody gets the feeling through them, they want to become scientists and engineers and participate in this adventure. scientists and engineers who are the seeds of tomorrow's economies in this competitive 21st century we're entering. i submit i want to go to the moon and mars to explore, but that's not the biggest reason to do so.

By
updated 1/28/2012 1:29:46 PM ET 2012-01-28T18:29:46

The United States may start working toward establishing a moon colony by 2020, or an asteroid may remain the next target for manned exploration; it depends on who wins this November's presidential election.

America's space policy tends to change on four- or eight-year cycles, often shifting dramatically when a new commander-in-chief is sworn in. With the next election less than 10 months away, it appears that incumbent Democrat Barack Obama will take on one of two Republicans — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Romney and Gingrich are currently leading the Republican primaries, ahead of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Here's a brief look at the vision the president and each of the two Republican frontrunners have professed for NASA and the nation's space activities.

SpaceX
This still from a SpaceX mission concept video shows a Dragon space capsule landing on the surface of Mars. SpaceX's Dragon is a privately built space capsule to carry unmanned payloads, and eventually astronauts, into space.

Barack Obama: The status quo
President Obama announced his administration's space policy in 2010, one year after taking office. The plan called for a radical change in direction for NASA.

Obama canceled George W. Bush's Constellation program, which had instructed NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. Instead, Obama directed the space agency to focus on getting humans to an asteroid by 2025, then on to Mars by the mid-2030s.

The president's vision entails, in part, the development of a new heavy-lift rocket. In response, NASA has begun working on a booster called the Space Launch System, which it hopes will be operational by late 2021.

Obama's policy also seeks to jump-start commercial spaceflight capabilities. Since the space-shuttle fleet was grounded last year, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

But over the long haul, Obama wants private American spaceships to take over this taxi role. So the president promised NASA an extra $6 billion over five years, which the agency would use to help companies develop these new craft.

NASA has said it hopes some of these commercial vehicles will be up and running by 2017 or so.

Newt Gingrich: Grand plans
Newt Gingrich has big ideas for American spaceflight, which he laid out in a speech Wednesday on Florida's Space Coast.

NASA
An artist's concept of a possible colony on the moon.

The self-professed space geek said that, if elected president, he would push for a permanent manned lunar colony by 2020. He also wants a bustling commercial spaceflight industry by that year, as well as a next-generation propulsion system capable of sending astronauts to Mars quickly and efficiently.

But Gingrich wouldn't count on NASA to make all of this happen. Instead, he would look to develop the capabilities of private industry by establishing a system of cash prizes. As an example, he said he'd propose a $10 billion prize for the first company or entity to get a human to Mars.

"You put up a bunch of interesting prizes, you're going to have so many people showing up who want to fly, it's going to be unbelievable," Gingrich said. "So the model I want us to build is largely the model of the '20s and '30s, when the government was actively encouraging development (in the aviation industry), but the government wasn't doing it."

Gingrich announced he would set aside 10 percent of NASA's budget to help fund these prizes. He seems keen to cut the space agency's funding overall, saying repeatedly that he wants NASA to be "leaner" and less bureaucratic.

Lockheed Martin
This artist's illustration depicts a "Plymouth Rock" asteroid mission with astronauts and NASA's Orion spacecraft as envisioned by Lockheed Martin.

Mitt Romney: Steering NASA by committee
Mitt Romney hasn't been as voluble on space policy as Gingrich, but he shares his Republican rival's desire to shift more of the spaceflight burden from NASA to private industry.

In fact, Romney wants the business community to help chart NASA's course and provide part of its funding. At a Republican primary debate in Florida on Monday, he suggested that leaders from the private sector, academia and the military should work together with the president and NASA officials to map out the nation's space activities.

"Bring them together, discuss a wide range of options for NASA, and then have NASA not just funded by the federal government but also by commercial enterprises," Romney said. "Let's have a collaborative effort, with business, with government, with the military as well as with our educational institutions."

Compared with a Gingrich presidency, a Romney administration would likely place less weight on exploring and exploiting the final frontier. However, the former Massachusetts governor has said that he views space exploration as a priority.

We need to "have a mission, once again excite our young people about the potential of space, and the commercial potential will pay for itself down the road," Romney said.

Calling all visionaries
These presidential hopefuls are following in the footsteps of past leaders by declaring sweeping visions for our nation's space program. Most famously, John F. Kennedy said on May 25, 1961, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Those words prompted a countrywide push to carry out the Apollo program, culminating in the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969.

Ever since, leaders have been trying to reproduce the Kennedy effect.

"I have been puzzled for years by a statement that goes something like, 'If we just had a president with the vision and foresight of John F. Kennedy to announce a bold space initiative, all would be well with NASA,'" said Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The problem is that Apollo succeeded because of the very specific political, technological and economic environment of the time, Launius said. It's not necessarily for a lack of vision that NASA hasn't quite reached those heights since.

"We have had those national leaders who made those bold proclamations," Launius told Space.com in an email. "Twenty years to the day after the Apollo 11 landing, President George H.W. Bush made another Kennedy-like speech announcing the ambitious Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) that was intended to return people to the moon by 2000, establish a lunar base, and then, using the space station and the moon, reach Mars by 2010. The price tag for this effort was estimated at a whopping $400 billion over two decades and the initiative never gained traction in Congress or with the American people."

That president's son tried again 15 years later.

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"On Jan. 14, 2004, President George W. Bush performed essentially a re-enactment of his father by announcing a 'Vision for Space Exploration' that called for humans to reach the moon and Mars during the next 30 years. It did not gain much political or funding support either," said Launius.

Whether Obama's, Gingrich's, or Romney's plans will succeed remains to be seen.

Space.com assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz contributed to this report. You can follow Space.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow Space.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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