Moonbase proposal: Lunacy or pandering?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has given late-night comedians and opponents some material over the years, but his recent proposal to return to the moon and establish a permanent base by 2020 has raised some eyebrows.

Gingrich made the proposal while campaigning in Florida, where the end of the Space Shuttle program and the scuttling of Project Constellation, which would have returned Americans to the moon has left many unemployed in Florida's aerospace industry.

Pres. Obama pulled the plug on Constellation, the Bush administration's planned to return to the moon. This program would have used the moon as a test bed for a mission to Mars. Constellation was over budget and underfunded.

The Obama administration's space policy seeks to privatize missions to orbit and the International Space Station and develop new heavy lifting rockets for a manned mission to the asteroid belt and eventually Mars.

Since the first moon landing in 1969 and the fall of the Soviet Union two decades later, more and more people have questioned the value of manned space exploration. Success in unmanned exploration has only fueled this debate.

The entrance of China and India into manned space exploration may be behind some of the increased interest in manned exploration beyond earth orbit. The space race of the 1960s was framed as a way to defeat communist Russia. If the communist Chinese land on the moon, will we then be clamoring for a new space race, despite the considerable cost?

There is no doubt that technology has been developed from space exploration that has improved the quality of life on earth. But when it is our national ego on the line, how much is that worth?

Since the fall of Soviet communism, cooperation, not competition, has been the verb used most often when describing space exploration.

Since Gingrich lost the Florida primary, it will be interesting to see if this proposal simply goes away.

We will return to the moon. When and why will be story.