(AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich wants to create a
lunar colony that he says could become a U.S. state. There’s his grand
research plan to figure out what makes the human brain tick. And he’s
warned about electromagnetic pulse attacks leaving America without
To some people, these ideas sound like science fiction. But mostly they are not.
science policy experts say the former House speaker’s ideas are based
in mainstream science. But somehow, Gingrich manages to make them sound
way out there, taking them first a small step and then a giant leap
further than where other politicians have gone.
promise that “by the end of my second term we will have the first
permanent base on the moon” got amped up in a recent debate in Florida,
which lost thousands of jobs with the end of the space shuttle program.
By then, the lunar base had become a colony and even a potential state,
and his moon ideas were ridiculed by rival Mitt Romney.
to the moon and building an outpost there is not new. Until three years
ago, it was U.S. policy and billions of dollars were spent on that
on the moon dates at least to 1969, when a government committee
recommended that NASA first build a winged, reusable space shuttle
followed by a space station and then a moon outpost. In 1989, President
George H.W. Bush proposed going to the moon and staying there.
years later, in 2005, his son, President George W. Bush, proposed a
similar lunar outpost, phased out the space shuttle program and spent
more than $9 billion designing a return to the moon program.
Washington University space policy director Scott Pace, who was NASA’s
associate administrator in the second Bush administration and is a
Romney supporter, said the 2020 lunar base date Gingrich mentioned was
feasible when it was proposed in 2005.
it is no longer, felled by funding cuts and President Barack Obama’s
decision to cancel the program. Pace said it would be hard to figure out
when NASA could get back to the moon, but that such a return is doable.
kept killing return-to-the moon plans were the costs, starting in 1969.
The proposal died 20 years later when the price tag was released: more
than $700 billion in current dollars. The second President Bush’s plans
started running into problems due to insufficient funding. After a
special commission said those plans were not sustainable, Obama
cancelled the return-to-the-moon program. Instead, he ordered NASA to
aim astronauts toward an asteroid and eventually Mars, something many
space experts say is even more ambitious.
of you may like it and you may dislike it, but I gave the boldest
explanation of going into space since John F. Kennedy in 1961,” Gingrich
said this week in Florida. “I believe in an America of big ideas and
big solutions. I believe if we unleash the American people we will
rebuild the American dream.”
Florida, nearly all the Republican presidential candidates promoted
private companies sending astronauts into space. Several companies are
building private spaceships. Commercial space companies taking over the
job of getting Americans into low Earth orbit is a cornerstone of the
Obama space plan. But, again, money has been an issue.
example, NASA received $406 million in its current budget for private
space programs. Obama had asked Congress for $805 million.
Lane, former head of the National Science Foundation and White House
science adviser during the Clinton administration, said Gingrich’s
proposals aren’t crazy, although he may disagree with some of them.
Gingrich’s ideas and actions are “very pro-science,” said Lane, who
credited Gingrich with protecting federal science research from budget
cuts in the 1990s.
on the edge of mainstream thinking about big science. Except for the
idea of establishing a colony on the moon, it’s not over the edge,”
added Syracuse University science policy professor Henry Lambright.
Iowa, Gingrich pushed a “brain science” initiative that advocates
spending more private and federal money to map the human brain to help
fight and cure Alzheimer’s disease. He said the idea was based on the
experience of watching his late mother’s transformation from a happy
person with friends to living in a long-term care facility suffering
from bipolar disease, depression and physical ailments.
said his “whole emphasis on brain science” is based on his mother’s
depression and mental illnesses. Discussing the issue in Iowa, he wiped
away a tear, saying: “It’s not a theory. It’s in fact, my mother.”
idea of mapping the brain to figure out how it works is a traditional
scientific approach to a difficult problem. Scientists have tried to
conquer disease by mapping the human genome and figuring out the basic
biology of cancer, said Arizona State University science policy
professor Dan Sarewitz. The trouble is that, in the past, it hasn’t paid
off as promised, he said.
also has raised eyebrows with his dire warnings about the threat of
electromagnetic pulses. The fear being that a nuclear bomb detonated
hundreds of miles above America could knock out the country’s
electricity for a long time. In 2009, Gingrich said it “may be the
greatest threat we face … We would in fact lose our civilization in a
matter of seconds.”
Fischbeck, a professor of engineering and risk at Carnegie Mellon
University, said the threat has existed for about a half a century and
is real. But “it’s getting more likely and more dangerous” as America
becomes more electronic-dependent and other countries advance in
technology, he said.
Still, it’s space where Gingrich dreams biggest and raises the most eyebrows.
of the criticism of his space plans, especially in the media, have been
unfair, said Alan Stern, NASA’s space sciences chief during George W.
Bush’s administration. He said Gingrich is just thinking big, like a
how ‘Star Trek’ begins,” said Stern, vice president of the Southwest
Research Institute and director of the Florida Space Institute. “But
when a government guy or politician talks that way, they just get
clobbered about being unrealistic and that’s unfortunate.”
Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Florida contributed to this report.
SOURCE: The Associated Press