Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why Conservatives Should Cheer, Not Condemn Newt's Moon Base

This artist's rendering represents a concept o...
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The following post appeared on Menzies House

Newt Gingrich recent Moon base proposal has produced much negative reaction. It has ranged from “ its “lunacy”, “can not be afforded” or my favorite Dadadadaaaa da “ . While such criticisms would be expected from Democrats sadly much of the ridicule comes from conservatives.. Its not my intention to discuss Mr Gingrich suitability for the Presidency, what I want to discuss is his Space policy and how Space can give us the freedoms and prosperity we want.
Firstly lets look at the United Nations view on our future. According to the UN we must redefine economic growth and "retool world economy for sustainability.":
The panel challenged leaders to recognise that "current global development is unsustainable."
"We need to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Addis Ababa to mark the release of the panel's report, which outlines more than 50 policy recommendations.
Its a world view based on the “ Only One Earth” mentality. Its the philosophy of the Greens. There’s nothing new about it, “the Limits to Growth” report put out by the Club of Rome came out in the 1970's . Because resources are believed to be limited it accepts the government has to limit our freedoms. The end result would be a bleak future were wealth creation would be limited and freedom replaced by bureaucracy.
There's another view, The Space Frontier Future. It recognizes we are residents of a Solar System with over nine planets , many moons and countless asteroids. A future the believes our species is not bound to any single planet but fully capable of expanding out throughout the Solar System.

Satellites have provided many applications, but that's just the beginning. The Moon's resources can be mined for Space manufacturing , it also contains plentiful Helium 3 , a possible nuclear fuel, and should have large deposits of platinum group metals. The confirmation of ice at the Lunar poles makes a Moon base more practical. The asteroids contain vast amounts of industrial metals and Mars has all the resources for a technological civilisation.
Saying we “only have one Earth” makes as much sense as a 16th Century European saying we only have one Continent.
The role of a government in Space is no different from its role in any other frontier. It has the responsibility of proper stewardship until people can exploit and colonise the new territory . Also to help explore and construct appropriate infrastructure. Think of the opening of Outback Australia and the American West.
Which brings us back to Newt and his Moon base. The Americans have historical been the leaders in Space exploration and still see that as part of their role. Mr Gingrich is a historian who has been interested in Space most of his life. He understands what Space has to offer as well as the high costs of recent government Space ventures. The reality is the United States has a horrendous $1.5 trillion deficit which has to be reduced. Now you might say that with such debt there should be no Space program, but none of the candidates are saying that. Mitt Romney is not. Even Ron Paul wants to keep military Space but if he believes civilian Space can be zeroed out while keeping military Space he has no understanding of history.
What needs to be done is reduce significantly the Space budget and open the frontier at the same time. Which is what the Gingrich policy offers.
Look at NASA. The agency has degenerated into a decrepit, bloated bureaucracy. It has been unable to build a new rocket since the Space Shuttle, first flown in 1981. Billions of dollars have been spent on various projects, National Aerospace Plane, X-33, X-37, Ares etc. All have failed. The Space Station was supposed to be laboratory were Shuttle astronauts could do research but by the time the Station was complete the Shuttle was retired and now NASA astronauts have been forced to take taxi rides on Russian Soyuz capsules. Even their awesome robotic program is decaying. NASA no longer has the nuclear fuel for deep space missions. NASA's current big project is the Space Launch System (SLS) , an attempt to build a big Apollo class rocket with Shuttle technology. If it ever flys they may do a couple of launches a year. Just were too is unknown as it has no mission. But why would you want to build a rocket with 1970's era technology anyway? Well, its the most labour intensive which is what you want in a politically motivated jobs program. Cynics don't call the SLS the Senate Launch System for nothing.
Contrast this with the American private sector. Theres the Deltas and Atlas, Pegasus and Minotaur rockets. SpaceX has the Falcon rocket and Dragon Spaceship. Bigelow has prototype inflatable space stations in orbit. And in 2004 Spaceship One became the first privately manned spaceship to reach Space. Note, SpaceX was able to build two new rockets, Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, as well as launch the prototype Dragon spaceship for under a billion dollars, a fraction of what it would have cost NASA..
What Mr Gingrich proposes is to bypass NASA. He wants a Moonbase to open up the Space Frontier but realises that it would be an expensive waste of money if NASA was given the job. So he wants 10% of NASA's budget to be spent on prizes. That has been one of the traditional ways frontiers have been opened. Prizes were used to explore Australia and to open up aviation. Spaceship One only flew because of the $10 million X-Prize. Reduce total expenditure by abolishing SLS and other wasteful spending and there will still be enough money for a Moonbase Prize. Remember prizes are only paid if they are won. If no Moonbase is built there will be no cost. Chances are however it will be built. It would challenge American innovation and enterprise, but there have been private Moonbase proposals for years . More would be developed. Theres no technical reason it couldn't be done.
In a few years there could be people living on the Moon. A base built not by government bureaucrats but by free men and women. An oasis of life on a dead world that would help destroy the dangerous socialist Only One Earth mentality. 

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