Recently I spent some time surrounded by people who are smarter than I am, who are braver and more committed to human progress, who know more about science and technology, more about business and industry, and more about budgets and expenditures.
This is an experience Congress and the White House should have. Except Congress and the White House have this experience every day. And me too, but at least I know when it’s happening.
In December 1972, Eugene Cernan took a long climb up a short ladder on the lunar surface and became the last human being to set foot on another world. It was forty years ago this week that Apollo 17 completed its quarter million mile journey home, marking the last time to date humans have traveled more than a few hundred miles from earth.
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.
Cocoa, Fla. Newt Gingrich is promising voters the moon—or a moon base, at least.
During what his campaign dubbed its “Space Coast Town Hall Meeting,” Gingrich told a packed Holiday Inn Express conference room on Wednesday evening that one of his goals at the end of two terms in the White House is to have the “first permanent base on the moon.” He also invoked John F. Kennedy just miles from the former president’s eponymous space center about the challenges and the potential of a reinvigorated space program.
The crony capitalism represented by the failed “green energy” firm Solyndra has gotten a lot of media attention lately, but much lower on the public’s radar is a much bigger example of corporate pork over at the national space agency—and it’s bipartisan. Let’s call it Shuttlyndra.
Here’s how it works.
A little over a year ago, Congress approved a NASA authorization bill that mandated the agency to spend billions in taxpayer dollars over the next few years on a congressionally specified giant rocket with no defined mission and no budgets with which to build payloads for it.
Forty-two years ago yesterday, Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ascended from the surface of the moon and rendezvoused with Michael Collins in the command module Columbia for their trip home from mankind’s maiden voyage to the moon. All three men are now in their 80s, and no human being has been on the moon since each of them was 42 — and now even the space shuttle has had its last liftoff.
The Economist magazine thinks the Space Age is probably over, and the discussion of our space future (or non-future) in its new issue is intelligent and informative. I've found over the years, though, that in many instances, the Economist's suave articulation of the not-so-cutting edge of conventional wisdom proves wrong. Mark Albrecht hopes that's so in this case, because he's a believer in space exploration, and his new book argues for U.S. leadership in that endeavor.
Writing in USA Today, Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell —the first and last men on the moon, and the commanders of Apollo 11, 17, and 13 — highlight another example of President Obama’s lack of faith in American exceptionalism. In a piece entitled, “Is Obama Grounding JFK’s Space Legacy?” the three astronauts (now 80, 77, and 83 years old) write:
Think quick: What tasks would the president of the United States charge the head of NASA with performing: Going to Mars? Returning to the moon? Finding a replacement for the Space Shuttle? Enhancing U.S. technology?