Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has made some some rather out of this world campaign promises in regards to America’s future in space. Addressing a crowd while campaigning in Florida, Gingrich promised that, by the end of his second term, which would be in 2021, the Moon would have its first permanent manned base, adorned with the Stars and Stripes.
So, could this really happen if we have a President Gingrich? If past trends hold true, not unless there is either a major shift in policy or the private sector takes up the effort.
For the past few years, NASA’s budget has been essentially flat, with the 2012 funds actually being slightly less than those allocated for 2011, and even then, there is continued risk for more cuts too. Driven largely by budget-conscious Republicans, Gingrich’s party, the government has been on a cutting spree (if one could call it that), chopping a few hundred billion dollars from government expenses. Yes, while that’s a mere drop in the bucket when the federal budget is measured in the trillions, for smaller, discretionary, non-defense expenditures (like NASA), that leaves open the possibility of cuts.
True, while NASA hasn’t endured crippling budget cuts, the mere fact that the dollar is losing purchasing power every year means that, by 2020, if NASA’s budget remains at current levels, it might as well have been cut as inflation will guarantee that, with each coming year, each dollar will won’t go as far as it did the year before.
Now,nit doesn’t take a degree in political science to figure out that the Republican nominee (whoever he turns out to be) have a major ace up his sleeve in the form of the “the Democrats are wasting your tax money” card. As the economy continues to stay stagnant and ordinary people have less money, the American public is more likely than ever before to demand that government make cuts the way ordinary Americans have had to do for years.
End result: to avoid alienating the voters that started a Republican resurgence in 2010, chances are that Republicans, if they take Congress and the White House, will continue to look for more ways to trim government spending. Implication: no big budget increases for NASA.
Now, that’s not to say that all hopes of an American Moon base by 2020 are dead, far from it. In the past few years, the private sector has taken an increasingly active interest in space exploration as there is big money to be made in the final frontier, from government contracts to space tourism and everything in between. To further the continuing privatization of space, in his same campaign speech, Gingrich promised some serious financial incentives to private firms that take up the cause of space exploration.
Sop, come 2020, who knows, there may be an American base on the Moon, but it very may well not be a NASA undertaking.
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