PoliticsScience & Technology

2020: Gingrich’s Space Odyssey

By Ashley Hansberry • February 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm


Moon Colony?

Could be we colonizing the Moon come 2020? | Photo courtesy of NASA/Dennis M. Davidson

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich stirred up an odd controversy last week after announcing his plans for a lunar base. “By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the Moon,” he said to an audience in Florida shortly before the primary.

This latest scientific proposal, between his casual insistence that he would serve two terms and the sheer grandiosity of suggesting a Moon colony in such a rough economy, outshines even Gingrich’s previous scientific plans in media radar. Every critic, from fellow candidate Mitt Romney to comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have jumped on the opportunity to ridicule Gingrich’s plans.

It certainly sounds crazy, but there might be a hint of possibility to Gingrich’s plan. Returning to the Moon is closer to reality than fantasy. In fact, building an outpost on the Moon was a U.S. plan until about three years ago. At its center, the idea is possible, but expensive.

The problem isn’t the technology, it’s the cost. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) estimates that developing a small, four-person lunar base would cost $35 billion, not including the rocket needed to transport the lunar lander. After the station were established, the CSIS estimates another $7.35 billion a year for maintenance, which is over a third of NASA’s current budget. Especially with NASA’s recent budget cuts, no one is sure whether they will be able to afford these costs years down the road.

Gingrich

Gingrich is full of grand ideas, but are they realistic? | Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Cost aside, having people permanently stationed on the Moon isn’t complete science fiction. While 2020 might be a stretch, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) program could be ready to take people to space by the mid 2020s. After all, six crew members, three of them American, are currently on the now-finished International Space Station. With the help of international cooperation, the six trained astronauts and engineers are conducting groundbreaking research and experiments on the station.

There’s a far stretch, however, between a four-to-six person outpost and what Gingrich is proposing. He isn’t aiming for something modest. He’s talking of a permanent colony, where people could live and travel. Once the Moon reaches 13,000 people, he said, it could apply for statehood. This is where Gingrich’s idea becomes most unrealistic. If the cost of a four-person Moon base is unattainable, it’s completely unlikely that we could sustain anything close to a colony. A Moon base is a long term commitment that will need constant funding and attention, regardless of the political environment on Earth. Especially with the economy in a tumultuous state, it’s hard to believe that the US could continually devote their attention towards the Moon while people on Earth are less than happy.

In the end, it’s not the technology that’s at issue. Funded by private companies or by multinational efforts, we could have people stationed on the moon by sometime in the 2020s (or even on their way to Mars if the SLS program is a success). A 13,000 person moon colony, though, is currently out of the question. NASA’s budget cuts have left many less than hopeful about the United States’ stake in space, so it’s refreshing to see Gingrich pushing for exploration. He’ll have to think of another way to get people excited about space, however, because this Moon plan is simply too grandiose to become a reality within his two term limit.


Ashley Hansberry (CAS '14) is the Senior Editor at The Quad. She is a senior studying Computer Science and Linguistics who likes writing about robots, technology, and education. When she's not living in the computer science lab, you can find her wearing animal earrings or admiring puppies she sees on the street.



Responses

  1. Lee

    Ashley–

    Thanks for the informative post. It’s also worth mentioning that the US does not own the moon. Figuring out international maritime boundaries can be tricky– lord help the bureaucrats charged with establishing sovereignty in space.