The current Presidential nomination contest for the Republican party has not really dealt much with science (I suppose ScienceDebate opted not to bother this time around). Sure, there have been incidents over climate change and evolution, but those strike me as more about the ‘culture wars’ and the proper role of government in the context of a campaign. There were concerns that the Republican Party was doubling down on ‘anti-science,’ most of them linked to the now-finished campaign of former Ambassador Jon Huntsman.
Some have tried to assess where the Republican candidates (usually just those still in the race since Iowa) stand on science and technology (mostly the latter), and you can dig through those laundry lists. In my eyes, the candidates with the most egregious ‘science’ statements I’m particularly annoyed by a recent utterance from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (quote at roughly 0:32).
“By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.”
So, by January 2021, a scant nine years from now, the U.S. will have managed to:
- develop the base plan
- obtain Congressional approval
- find the money – either for NASA or for the still-nascent private space sector
- develop (or in some cases, redevelop) the launch and living technologies needed to establish a permanent settlement.
In constant dollars, the NASA budget from 1963 to 1969 was larger than the current NASA budget. Sometimes the budget was nearly twice as much. However, the budget in the 1960s was also a much larger share of the federal budget (between 2 and 4 percent, comparable to toal R&D spending today).
How does Mr. Gingrich think this will be financed? Per The Washington Post:
“Gingrich proposed doing this without increasing NASA’s budget. Instead, he’d transform the agency’s culture, rely heavily on private industry and leverage American ingenuity. He said he’d use 10 percent of the NASA budget — which would amount to nearly $2 billion a year — to create prizes, incentives for entrepreneurs to achieve spaceflight milestones.”
The ridicule sent Mr. Gingrich’s way by his fellow candidates at tonight’s debate and the late night programs is well deserved. If he is actually sincere with his plan, it stands a much better chance to land with the failures of both Bush Administrations to develop grand exploration plans and fail to effectively fund them (the jury is still out for the current Administration). This self-proclaimed ideas man seems to have no thought for execution.
This is, arguably, an attempt to accelerate the gradual shifting of space exploration from public to private sectors. As Congress resisted the Obama Administration’s effort in part because it felt that the private sector wasn’t quite ready (whether they are really just protecting local jobs is another matter), I would expect the same resistance to a President Gingrich.