Ground control to Major Newt

By Sarah Uhl

Potential Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has revealed his plans for NASA if he succeeds office: building a permanent base on the moon.

Gingrich made the statement during a visit to Florida’s Space Coast before the Florida primaries and comes amidst rising debate over the future of American space exploration. Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, unemployment in the area has risen to 10.8%, more than 2% higher than the national unemployment rate.

Gingrich sought to ease voters’ fears by touting his plans for NASA’s future. In a rally, Newt pledged to build a permanent American base on the moon by the end of his second term as president.

The base would be used for “commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s.”

Gingrich also stated that once the population of the moon base reached 13,000 it could become America’s 51st state and that travel to Mars was also a possibility.

Gingrich did not reveal how these projects would be funded, although he did suggest the possibility of using 10% of NASA’s current budget to fund commercial projects.  The problem with funding the program lies chiefly in the fact that NASAs budget as a percentage of the federal budget has fallen steadily since the mid 1970s.  The current level is 0.5% of the total budget, compared to more than 3% during the space race of the 1960s.

In the current race to cut spending, President Obama cancelled the Space Operations program, which led to the retirement of the space shuttle program in late 2011.  The rest of NASA’s budget has remained largely untouched, although experts agree that the current budget simply isn’t enough to realise Gingrich’s lofty plans.

In response to Gingrich’s speech, rival candidate Mitt Romney replied by underlining the importance of NASA’s research but emphasizing that federal funding simply won’t be enough to fund its future.  Romney said that what is needed is a “NASA not just funded by the federal government, but also by commercial enterprises.”

Commercial funding does seem to be the way of the future, with NASA banking on companies such as Virgin Galactic and Sierra Nevada Corporation to provide shuttles to the International Space Station now that the the Space Association no longer operate shuttles of their own.



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