GOP Love for Space?
Last night the Republican primary scene offered up another crackling debate! I say that with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. I don’t usually enjoy watching debates because every candidate is a raving egomaniac so the debates are rather farcical in nature. But there was a topic which sparked my interest in this debate. The question came up about NASA and what kind of future does America have in space and how do we fund it? Only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were given time to answer the question and they both said basically the same thing. Romney specifically said that the future of space exploration is critical to the advancement of America because it fuels passion for science and engineering in youth and the technological advancements made in the space industry keep our society moving forward. He then added that the future of space exploration has to be a joint venture between government, private sector, and educational institutions. His view is that we should be leaning towards a more privately funded space program and that the commercial benefits would help pay for the high costs of innovation. He then stated that our country needs a mission to get excited about again, similar to how President Kennedy’s challenge to NASA to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960’s inspired the whole country, and succeeded. Newt Gingrich’s answer, while novel, seemed more like a cop-out and might have represented a lack of a real plan. The former Speaker said that space exploration should also be more privately funded and that it should be fueled by prizes. He likened this plan to Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris for a $25,000 prize. I assume he means to use the success of the X-Prize plan, beginning with the Ansari family’s competition to launch the first private spaceship into orbit and Google’s Lunar X-Prize to send a privately funded and designed robotic probe to the moon. The Ansari X-Prize was a huge success and the Lunar X-Prize is well underway. While this is certainly a novel idea and has seen success, as the envelope is continually pushed further and further, it will require increasing amounts of support from established agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency.
What this means for NASA is that its days as the marquee space establishment are likely over, and have been for a while. NASA’s budget simply cannot be funded in full at their desired level of support. Although NASA occupies 0.5% of the federal budget, the government can’t justify sending that much cash towards a program that doesn’t cause people to rely on the government for their daily sustenance. I think that Governor Romney’s plan is probably the better of the two as Gingrich’s will likely involve too much reliability on NASA in the long-run as we get further and further along. If we are going to hand the reigns of space exploration over to the private sector then what the government needs to do is make a concerted effort to emphasize science education and specifically physics, engineering, and astronomy related topics to fuel a passion for space in our nations youth which is sorely lacking now. America was once the leader in space exploration and we’ve let budget cuts and uninterested citizens slow our progress. We should be back on top, maybe not as a government, but as a nation, with its citizens leading the way to better understand the universe we live in!
You can read the article on the NASA question from the debate at FoxNews.com.