Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Friday, January 27, 2012

To The Moon, Newt!

A viewer of Current TV's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" wrote in to ask what Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had in mind when he stated that "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon. And it will be American."

As a contributor to the program for astronomy and space topics, their booking producer asked my opinion of what I thought of Gingrich's declaration. Here's my response to the producer and the viewer who wrote in:

"On one hand, I commend him for two things: 1. Looking for something to ignite the imagination and the enthusiasm of our youth and;  2. Thinking of using our space program as a way to drive tech STEM education and tech development in the US in the future.

On the other hand, let's pretend this story has come up on an episode of  'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'. Rogers' question would be: "Children, can you say 'pandering'?"

By 2020, huh? Let's add Newt's promise to discussions about the length of time an ice cube could exist in hell, or the possibility of flying pigs, etc.
We currently do not have a plan for the establishment of a lunar base. We don't have the specialty manufacturing base necessary to build the equipment (that hasn't been designed yet). Congress has hasn't been presented with any sort of logical rationale for the enormous expenditure it would take to accomplish such a task in eight years. I'm not saying it couldn't be done BUT such an effort would have to command the direct and complete commitment of Congress to provide a blank check to NASA and require the country to completely re-focus its attention away from overseas conflict, the financial recovery, international terrorism, energy issues and above all, the Washington partisan politics, bickering, backbiting and frozen non-functioning. To do what Newt is suggesting, the country's leadership would have to be convinced that mounting such an effort would do something not only miraculous – like something on the level of how JFK's declaration was meant to squash the Soviet threat – but it would also have to benefit every congressional district or else who but those who have the space industries in their districts would support it?

Newt's tactic here? Tell the Floridians whatever they want to hear to get their vote. He'll just screw them later. It's like coming to Pennsylvania and saying fracking for natural gas will be the nation's new energy policy once he's elected.

If we really hustle, we might get back to the moon by 2020. Permanent base? 2030 if we're really committed at the earliest.

Ad Astra,
Derrick (Still available for tonight) Pitts"

I gave a highly condensed version of this response last night as the No. 1 story on "Countdown".

The scary part is that the other Republican candidates railed against Gingrich's idea but for all the wrong reasons. In last night's debate, a week before the Florida primaries, Mitt Romney vaguely said he supports manned space exploration, then said it's too expensive and admitted he would fire anybody who came to him with a multi-billion dollar proposal to build a base on the moon. Rick Santorum said space is important but exploring space is too expensive. Ron Paul flatly said he doesn't think we should go to the moon, that there are more important issues to deal with here like healthcare, and that space research should be pursued for national defense purposes. None, except Gingrich, mentioned anything about the importance of the space program as a driver of American technological development or world technological and economic leadership. True, at one time, the importance of the space program was primarily for military supremacy but since the end of the Apollo program,  the space industry's importance has become far greater than its military importance for the nation's educational, research, industrial and military complexes.

Three things any presidential candidate must remember about the importance of and need for a robust space program of any sort are: a clear vision is an absolute must, congress will fight you tooth and nail, and it will be beneficial - not during your term or terms as president, but only in the long run, maintaining this country's superiority and security.

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