Politics & Policy

Let Newt Gingrich Fix NASA

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
‘Newt Skywalker’ has the vision to restore American supremacy in space.

Everyone is putting in his two cents on who he thinks ought to get which jobs in the new Trump administration — and everyone was surprised this week when Newt Gingrich pulled himself out of the job fair, saying he was “100 percent sure” he didn’t want a position in the new White House. He said he would be happy to be “chief planner” but that he didn’t want anything formal.

Everyone was surprised because much of the Trump-job speculation has centered on Trump’s evident plan to reward his earliest and strongest supporters, the Jeff Sessions and Rudy Giulianis. Like Sessions and Giuliani, Newt is presumably in a position to ask for and receive almost any job he’d like. Maybe by this point in his life, he’s tired of doing paperwork. But instead of talking about what Newt wants to do, as if he’s a has-been in need of a favor, we should talk about what the United States can get out of him.

Newt should be the new administrator of NASA.

NASA has fallen on hard times. They haven’t got a shuttle any more, or any space capsules, so they’re reduced to buying rides from the Russians. They were planning to go back to the moon, but the plan got canceled and replaced with amorphous ideas for Mars. At this point, I doubt anyone in the country believes that NASA could beat SpaceX to Mars even if it wanted to. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the private sector have cornered the market on space-excitement. But as much as I would, in principle, like to leave this sort of thing to the free market, NASA is one of our greatest, most august, and most important institutions. To a patriotic American, seeing NASA diminished should feel like seeing the British set fire to the Library of Congress.

One man who understands this is Newt Gingrich. Not only does he understand it, he has serious ideas of what to do about it. In 2012, when he was running in the Republican presidential primary, Newt called for greater public-private space cooperation and added that we should go back to the moon and set up a permanent moon base, by 2020. His competitors and critics talked about this idea as if Newt were insane. Fifty years after Kennedy set a nine-year deadline for going to the moon, what strikes me as insane is that anyone would doubt that the United States of 2012 could reproduce the feat. When Kennedy set his deadline, the United States had a total of 15 minutes of spaceflight under its belt. Now we have a half-century’s experience, 21st-century materials, a permanent space station, and more computing power in my laptop than in all of 1960s Houston. Not to mention data from a half-dozen successful moon landings.

#related#The problem with our space program is our politicians — and the fact that most of them are incapable of thinking past the next election. You can’t say that of Newt. He’s a big thinker, with big, original ideas, and a sense of grandeur. It’s what he built his career on. And say what you like about Trump; this is one of his good qualities, too. We need politicians who want American cities to have the world’s tallest buildings and who want the moon to be covered in American flags. Newt may be tired of regular bureaucratic work, but is he too tired for space?

Newt is reported to be a lifelong space-enthusiast. He sits on the governors’ board of the National Space Society; people have (affectionately, I think) called him Newt Skywalker. And he hasn’t disguised his belief that NASA should be run differently, having said in the past that “NASA has become an absolute case study in why bureaucracy can’t innovate.”

This is his chance to do something about that, and to earn his nickname. NASA needs Kennedy-sized thinking; we need Newt to cash in on some of his Trump cachet.

Newt for NASA, 2017.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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