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January 25, 2012

Newt's Space Speech: Moon Base in Eight Years, and Then To Mars

It's not as daffy as it sounds.

But given budget priorities, I think it is daffy. But it is harmless, as it falls under the heading "Things Which Won't Happen."

"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," Gingrich said to applause.

...

Gingrich also said he would push to develop propulsion technology that would get man to Mars.

He emphasized that it doesn't have to be expensive, exploration in partnership with private companies can lower the cost.

...

"Does that mean I'm visionary? You betcha," he said.

This is a dream of the space lobby. It's not even a new plan -- Bush talked it up in 2004.

For the first time since 1972, the United States is planning to fly to the moon, but instead of a quick, Apollo-like visit, astronauts intend to build a permanent base and live there while they prepare what may be the most ambitious undertaking in history -- putting human beings on Mars.

President Bush in 2004 announced to great fanfare plans to build a new spaceship, get back to the moon by 2020 and travel on to Mars after that. But, with NASA focused on designing a new spaceship and spending about 40 percent of its budget on the troubled space shuttle and international space station programs, that timetable may suffer.

The moon base is discussed as some kind of useful midway point here. I don't believe that. I think it's some kind of make-work deliverable which can be achieved before the longer-term goal, the manned flight to Mars. They talk about construction or mining for fuel or something or other on the Moon which seems like it would cost about 1000 times more than it would cost to build a Mars ship on earth.

It's probably not all that expensive, in relative terms, given the sick, crushing cost of the government that is strangling us all; but then, why spend it at all, given how deep in debt we already are?

There are two schools of thought on this sort of thing, among conservatives. The neoconservative argument is that government may be a necessary evil, but it can do great things, and we might as well direct this necessary evil to do some of those great things.

I used to buy into that. I still do, a little, depending on the day of the week.

The other school of thought is that government is a necessary evil, but mostly an evil, and we shouldn't go adding to the evil, or creating a public relations breakthrough for it.

That's sort of a paleoconservative argument that almost comes down to "We almost want government to suck and be hobbled by inefficiency and waste, because we don't want the people wanting more of it."

Well, I'm not sure too many people buy into that Ron Paul sort of idea. I don't know if I do.

However, the whole point of a space program, really, is to give our kids something to dream about. You can talk about spin-off technology but you can get that cheaper simply by pouring money directly into the R&D of the technology you seek, rather than hoping a Mars Shot will produce some for you incidentally.

So if we want to give our kids something to dream about -- should we be telling them to dream of a government that dares enough to do big things?

Or a private sector that dares enough to do big things?

I realize they're not mutually exclusive. And yet... The real dream of every kid isn't about a massive program to go to the moon a couple of times. The real dream is that this should be an everyday, ordinary sort of thing -- like a business. You just buy a ticket, and up you go.

I gotta tell you that I had liberal tendencies as a kid, and part of the reason for that was that I associated the government with Cool Stuff -- FBI agents. The Army. Submarines. The Space Shuttle and Moon program.

The government was doing the stuff that young minds dreamed of. While "business" was something for the workaday drudges.

I don't know. Space boosters may say dreams matter.

I think I'm at the point where I'd agree -- but question the dreams.

Going Back and Forth On This: Yeah I don't know where I'd come down here.

I do like the general idea. Of all the things to waste tax dollars on, this seems among the most productive and glorious of wastes.

And yet...

If you're really serious about cutting government spending, that's going to be all the more difficult a sale if you're simultaneously budgeting in a moon base which has no economic purpose, except the intangible (and debatable) economic value of adding some vitality to a diminished American spirit.

I suppose there would be some of that. How much? Who knows.

The sad part is that I can see it going the other direction, more likely -- that screw-ups, overruns, general incompetence, and graft and corrupt contracts would wind up diminishing the American spirit you're trying to build up.

I have to admit, though, that I look forward to putting the first man on the moon, rather than "The Moon."

The HAL Problem: Minor content warning for f-bombs in a parody clip.


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posted by Ace at 05:58 PM

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