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JIM HARRIS: Keep Reaching For The Stars
Updated: January 30, 2012
The endless string of debates between Republican presidential candidates has become an almost weekly occurrence.
White House hopefuls former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum are all very close on the important issues facing the nation. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, of course, has ideas so different he can never be confused with the others.
Most of the debating has turned from the important issues facing the nation to trashing the other candidates.
Still, occasionally there comes along an issue that separates one of the candidates from the pack.
This year, that issue is America’s space program. Gingrich has a vision for that program that the other candidates don’t have.
If elected President, Gingrich wants the United States to have a permanent manned colony on the moon by 2020.
He sounds a lot like President John F. Kennedy when in 1961 he promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
His critics have called Gingrich’s plan too “grandiose.” He doesn’t see that as an insult.
“I accept the charge that I am an American, and Americans are instinctively grandiose, because we believe in a bigger future,” Gingrich said.
The space race did not, as many believe, start with JFK. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was the federal agency started to advance rocket-powered flight. It was created in 1915.
On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act and NACA became NASA, a new federal agency with a mission to make America the leader in the space race.
NASA produced Project Mercury (1959–1963) which put one man at a time in space. It was followed by Project Gemini (1962–1966) that put two men in space at the time. Then NASA had the Apollo program (1961–1972) that actually put the first men on the moon.
The world looked in awe at the United States. Not only had the space program accomplished what had never been done before, it gave America the greatest technology advantage in the world. It seemed there was nothing the Americans couldn’t do.
NASA followed the landing on the moon with three rather anticlimactic programs: Skylab (1973–1979) Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975–1981) Space Shuttle program (1981–2011).
NASA’s Space Shuttle program had 135 missions when the program ended with the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the KennedySpace Center on July 21, 2011. The program spanned 30 years with over 300 astronauts sent into space.
This brings us to the sorry state the space program is in now. When we want to put an American on the International Space Station, the U.S. has to buy a ticket from the Russian space program because America has no way to get anyone into space.
“I am sick of being told we have to be timid, and I am sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich said his plans would improve the country’s current standing in space, which he views as unacceptable.
Unlike Kennedy, Gingrich is not going to have space transportation as a federal program; instead he wants commercial space flight.
Gingrich wants to spur commercial spaceflight action by setting up a system of prizes. Fort example, he would establish a $10 billion prize for the first company to get astronauts to Mars.
Such a system would foster rapid development of commercial spaceflight capabilities just like the advances made by the aviation industry in the 1920s and 1930s.
Having a federal government that would encourage a commercial space program would require the private sector to create new technologies. It would cause a demand for people with skills in engineering, math electronics and other highly technical skills.
A demand would mean more young people going to college would study these areas. This would provide much needed jobs not only for people with these skills, but for thousands more who would build commercial space craft.
The technology required to meet the challengers of a commercial space program would find applications in other areas.
The history of the cell phone traces its roots back to technology needed for NASA’s space program. There are thousands of other things we take for granted today that wouldn’t exist without the American space program.
When JFK made his promise to put a man on the moon, it was in response to the Soviet Union’s putting the first man in space.
Now the competition is not from Russia, but from China.
The Chinese government wants to put a man on the moon by 2025. They are determined to become the new world power in space flight.
After being the leader in space exploration since the 1960s, America has lost its momentum. China sees a chance to fill that vacuum and take that away from us.
It will require America to have a vision to keep us as the leader of the world when it comes to space.
Gingrich seems to be the only candidate to see this. It speaks better of him as a candidate than anything said on the debates so far.