Newt’s Back in Town, Pushing a Moon Prize

Newt Gingrich (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Many of you know that I am not a big fan of President Donald Trump. But, occasionally I think he is capable of doing something smart.

One of those smart acts was to appoint Callista Louise Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. The smart aspect has nothing to do with her qualifications for the job, but rather what her presence in Rome would spare the United States.

I’m referring, of course, to getting her husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, out of the country. Unless the union has become a sham, and he was hooking up with a mistress in the U.S. as he had with Callista during marriage no 2, Newt would be out of the headlines and out of everyone’s line of sight for long periods of time.

For those of us who have had enough of the bombastic legislator/pundit/serial adulterer over the past 30 plus years, it’s been one of the few saving graces of Trump’s reign.

Unfortunately, it’s August – a time when most of Europe takes a month-long vacation. And, wouldn’t you know it, Newt is back in the States opining and making headlines.

His two main topics at the moment appear to be: space exploration, a subject he actually knows something about; and American race relations, a subject on which the former history teacher has long demonstrated a tin ear and a missing heart.

First to space:

Newt Gingrich and an eclectic band of NASA skeptics are trying to sell President Donald Trump on a reality show-style plan to jump-start the return of humans to the moon — at a fraction of the space agency’s estimated price tag.

The proposal, whose other proponents range from an Air Force lieutenant general to the former publicist for pop stars Michael Jackson and Prince, includes a $2 billion sweepstakes pitting billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other space pioneers against each other to see who can establish and run the first lunar base, according to a summary of the plan shared with POLITICO.

That’s far less taxpayer money than NASA’s anticipated lunar plan, which relies on traditional space contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and is projected to cost $50 billion or more.

Well, good luck with that. I doubt given the realities of Congressional pork barrel spending that a prize will ever fly. Just witness the uproar in Texas over NASA’s decision to give overall management of the Artemis human lunar lander to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Second, what has happened in the last 15 years since the $10 million Ansari X Prize was won makes me skeptical of prizes. Not all prizes, mind you, but prizes in general as a good way to develop sustainable technologies. They don’t always work.

The Ansari X Prize was very successful from an inspirational standpoint. But, it didn’t produce an industry so much as one business venture that has struggled for 15 years to commercialize the SpaceShipOne technology.

The need to produce a minimum viable vehicle before the prize expired at the end of 2004 resulted in dangerous and immature technology that its builders didn’t fully understand and proved difficult to scale up for SpaceShipTwo.

Scaled Composites was the only entry in the $10 million competition. No other company even came close to launching a crewed ship into suborbital space twice in two weeks.

A large prize might produce a race between Musk and Bezos. On the other hand, Bezos seems utterly uninterested in racing anyone into space. Slow and steady is his approach. And the guy worth nearly $112 billion certainly doesn’t need $2 billion to run a moon base.

The prize would likely end up funding another one-team race lead by Musk and SpaceX. That would undoubtedly involve indirectly funding the Super Heavy/Starship vehicle Musk is developing.

That might prove to be a wise investment; it might not. The jury is still out as to whether the system will work as advertised. Because a large prize that helps Musk accomplish his goals would undercut other programs, it’s most likely dead on arrival in Congress.

As for Gingirch’s other current subject, race relations, I was going to comment on them. But, they are just too dumb to waste time on. You can read his comments here and drawn your own conclusions.