Because I was on the road Wednesday night, I missed the first few hours of reaction to Newt Gingrich’s speech in Florida, when he said he wants to have a permanent station on the Moon "by the end of my second term". It wasn’t until Thursday morning that I opened up my web browser and saw that every blog, every news site, everyone, was talking about it. I must have had dozens of tweets and emails telling me about it and asking my opinion.
So I found a video of the speech and watched it. The only reason I didn’t laugh out loud at the nonsense unfolding from Mr. Gingrich’s mouth was that I already had seen the reaction online.
In Discover Magazine’s Crux blog I wrote a dissection of his speech and why he’s so vastly and profoundly wrong: The Newt-onian Mechanics of Building a Permanent Moon Base. You’ll get all the details there of why I think Gingrich’s plan is the worst possible way to go about trying to go to the Moon: in a hurry, with the wrong source of funding, and maybe because there’s a threat from those dirty communists.
Don’t get me wrong: I want a Moon base. I’ve written about that many times here on the blog, and for my Geek-A-Week card I asked Len Peralta to draw me as Commander Koenig from "Space:1999", for criminy’s sake. I stand second to no one in advocating exploring space, and our own satellite in particular. But it has to be done right, and Gingrich’s plan would be the worst way to do it.
In the post for The Crux I was blunt, but held back my tongue a bit because that isn’t necessarily the venue for me to do otherwise. But here, on my blog, I’ll say this: Gingrich’s words were both transparent and hollow. I knew right away what he was claiming was simply not possible, either financially, technologically, or politically. Take your pick. And it was also clear to me that no matter how you slice it, NASA would get screwed royally if his Moon base plan were implemented, since it would mean billions of dollars moved away from NASA projects to finance this. I started digging deeper to see if my first reaction was wrong, and all I found showed I was righter than I first thought. Every way you try to do it, his plan would destroy NASA. And I’m not exaggerating; the amount of money we’re talking about taking away from NASA projects to fund a base his way would leave everything else in NASA facing cancellation. It’s really that simple.
I was actually pretty stunned that people in Florida would support this idea. Obviously, they would have a vested interest in hearing big ideas about space exploration, but with just a little thought it’s clear that while Gingrich’s idea may be big, it’s only because it’s been stretched out way larger than it can handle. Its density is zero.
On the surface, it seems like Gingrich is a friend of space and science, but don’t be fooled: he’s just as likely to pander to the antiscience base as any other candidate, and his history shows he will attack science when he gets the chance. So while you might be inclined to like the idea of a candidate talking about promoting space exploration under any circumstances, have a care. Because once you get beneath that surface, you might find there’s nothing there.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore, caption added by me.
– The Newt-onian Mechanics of Building a Permanent Moon Base
– Erasing false balance: the right is more antiscience than the left
– The increasingly antiscience Republican candidates
– Help restore science to its rightful place