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Lead the Race to Space

1:23 PM, Jan 27, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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During last night’s debate, Mitt Romney responded to Newt Gingrich’s proposal that America establish a lunar colony by the end of the decade by saying that if someone presented him with that proposal, “I’d say, ‘You’re fired.’” While one might think Romney justified in firing someone who pitched Gingrich’s specific proposal, Romney gave the distinct impression that he also might have fired John F. Kennedy back in 1962. 

Space Shuttle Launch Photo

NASA

Compare the two men’s thoughts on space exploration, delivered 50 years apart (and presented in reverse chronological order). Here’s Romney:

“[R]ight now I want to be spending money here [rather than in space]. Of course the Space Coast has been badly hurt, and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I’d like to bring in the — the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we’re doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.

“And — and finally of course, the — the people from — the administration, if I had an administration. I’d like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I’d like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a — in a part — in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I — I believe in a manned space program. I’d like to see whether they believe in the same thing.”

Referring back to Gingrich’s proposal, he added, “I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.”

Here’s J.F.K.:

“[M]an, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

“…But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?...

“But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented…and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun…and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out — then we must be bold.”

To be sure, we live in a different day than Kennedy’s.  Despite President Obama’s pretend (or real?) lack of awareness of it, our colossal national debt is now of paramount concern. But even before Obama exploded our deficits and decimated our space program, NASA consumed well under 1 percent of the federal budget. We could eliminate NASA entirely, and 99.4 percent of federal spending would remain.

The central premise of Romney’s book, No Apology (subtitled, The Case for American Greatness) is that he believes in American exceptionalism. Yet it’s hard to square that notion with the United States of America no longer being able to get into space without bumming a ride from the Russians (actually, without paying them $63 million per astronaut — or whatever they subsequently might decide to demand). And it’s hard to square it with letting the Chinese become the first country to put a man on the moon during the lifetimes of most people who would witness it, thereby doing something glorious that our nation can no longer do. 

We shouldn’t settle for Obama’s low horizons. Going back to the moon and onto Mars is something that America should accomplish — and soon. Rather than concerning himself with whether corporate America, among others, believes in a manned space program, or whether that program would translate into commercial products, Romney should propose to lead. 

Romney should emulate the bold spirit of Kennedy and heed his words — as well as the more recent words of Marco Rubio — remembering that “no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

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