Sometimes politicians just make it way, way too easy. Newt Gingrich set himself up for a whole lot of ridicule on January 25th, when he promised a crowd of supporters in Florida a permanent moon base by the end of his second term as president.
The not-so-aptly-named Newton went on to imply that this base could become “the 51st state” and gave this reasoning for the project:
We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism, and manufacturing, and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s, because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.
Because everybody knows we’ve got to beat those Reds.
Still, an idea this grandiose deserves a moment of consideration. After all, American science programs have been lacking in a big way since the end of the original Space Race. NASA is basically dead, so all suggestions for getting us back on track are more than welcome by the scientific community.
So why are scientists still guffawing at Gingrich’s proposal? It’s not because we have no reason to build a moon base. NASA has actually published 181 reasons to do just that. If nothing else, a base on the moon could be our best way to get astronauts to Mars successfully.
That doesn’t mean that a colony, let alone a state of 13,000 US citizens, is feasible now or in the new future. Ray Villard at Discovery made a couple good points. First of all, getting 13,000 Americans to relocate to the moon in this economic climate? We can’t even get 13,000 Americans to buy new condos in Brooklyn. Secondly, do we really need a 51st state that ranges from about 220,000 to 250,000 miles away from the rest of us at any given time? Americans have a bad track record with the whole idea of shipping off to colonies far from the Motherland.
We just don’t have the money for it. Private sector space exploration is coming, but space tourism is going to focus on much shorter trips for the foreseeable future. Unless Bill Gates and ten of his richest friends decide they want to set up permanent summer homes on the moon, there isn’t enough money to make it happen.
All this aside, there is actually a treaty against us up and claiming that we own the moon. Even if the first moon base is “American” in origin, we won’t be able to claim the satellite’s resources as our own, and we definitely won’t be able to declare it a state without some serious hubbub from our fellow space-faring nations.
We have the technology, and we have plenty of scientists who would totally geek out over the prospect of working on a moon base. It will happen eventually, but chances are it’s going to take awhile…and the USA probably won’t be the country in charge of the project.