The myth of Men on the Moon

(Time, July 18, 1988)


Newt Gingrich reaped a ton of free publicity for his promise last week to – in the unlikely event he might be elected president of the United States – build a human settlement (colony? outpost? base?) on the Moon in eight years with substantial private investment.


Since the Kennedy administration landed men on the Moon in 1969, it seems that Republican administrations, and now a GOP-nominee-wannabe, have been preoccupied with going back. Nobody else seems too excited about it, but no matter, they persist. Same goes for this “commercial space” thing.

Look up Newt’s 1984 book, “Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future,” in which he hyped the so-called “commercial” development of space. The book was co-authored with David Drake and Marianne Gingrich. Newt was identified on the cover as chairman of the Congressional Space Caucus.

The cover illustration (courtesy of featured a space shuttle flying over the Earth, with a huge bald eagle stretching its wings around the two. Also on the cover was a quote from President Ronald Reagan (“A vision of the American dream…”).

Though, while editor of Space Business News (1983-1985), I went to a book-signing party for “Window…”, alas, I don’t have a copy of it.

In 1982 the Reagan administration issued a space policy statement (National Security Decision Directive 42) establishing that the government would promote and expand private-sector involvement and investment in space activities. In 1983, I became the editor of a new trade publication called Space Business News, devoted to reporting on the so-called commercial development of space.

In 1984 Reagan pitched a space station program to Congress, with a promised cost cap of $8 billion (really). It cost U.S. taxpayers somewhere around $100 billion to complete (not including the contributions of international partners).

In 1985 President Reagan appointed a National Commission on Space to develop a long-term plan for civilian/commercial space exploration and development, reaching far beyond the space station. (Full disclosure: I served on the staff of the commission.) In 1986, the Commission published its plan, entitled “Pioneering the Space Frontier.” It was grand and unaffordable.

In 1989 President George H.W. Bush said he would send people back to the Moon and on to Mars. His Space Exploration Initiative was, of course, unaffordable.

In 2004 President George W. Bush unveiled his “Vision for Space Exploration” – a plan to send people back to the Moon and on to Mars! It proved to be unaffordable, even more so than it was in 1989.

Now Newt wants to go back to the Moon. Others of a similar libertarian bent just can’t let go of their Moon-Mars bone. (See, for example, the wacky “Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet,” and its dozens of dreamy cousins.) Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and other ex-Apollo astronauts have jumped all over President Obama for allegedly abandoning the Moon-Mars Thing.

Newt and his ilk are living in Apollo La-La Land. It ain’t the ‘60s. The U.S. government does not have a budget surplus, the Cold War is over, and Newt Gingrich is no Jack Kennedy.



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