How many self-described fiscal conservatives would propose building a moon base while running for president in the midst of a crappy economy? At least one, it turns out.
Newt Gingrich declared yesterday at a campaign stop that he would ensure that there would be an American moon base by the end of his second term. Here's Talking Points Memo:
By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American,” he said. According to Newt, the base would be used for “science, tourism, and manufacturing” and create a “robust industry” modeled on the airline business in the 20th century.
And last month, Newt defended a plan he had proposed years earlier to begin a lunar mining operation on the moon.
Now, while this certainly seems like a crazy thing for a professed Big Government-hating conservative to say while trying to become the Tea Party's hero candidate, it's only a semi-crazy thing to say if you happen to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
In an article defending Newt's spaced-out ideas, the National Review notes that "in April of this year, a new company was formed in Silicon Valley by Microsoft veterans and others to start mining it robotically, with a first lunar landing planned as soon as 2013."
So, yes, there are actually plans being laid to mine the moon for resources. But that wasn't what Newt's original idea was. The idea he supported was far more grand. The Review explains that too:
The idea at the time was that orbital colonies, located at points between the earth and the moon, would pay for themselves by constructing giant satellites in geosynchronous orbit using lunar materials (such as silicon and aluminum from the silicates of the lunar highlands) that would collect solar energy and beam it to earth via microwaves. The orbiting-mirrors concept, called “lunetta,” was originated by the brilliant space visionary Krafft Ehricke.
Those space colonies would look something like this:
So the moon-mining would just be a means to an end to build space station utopias, which would then beam energy back down to Earth. After they were up and running, the mining could continue, prime stratosphere-level real estate would be sold to space colonists, and the lunar operation would yield both energy and minerals for the people below.
Believe it or not, some really smart folks at NASA were on board with the idea, too (see this story I wrote about NASA's vision for space colonies, circa 1975). In fact, they came up with these sketches to illustrate the orbital cities built on moon mining.
Of course, this vision for space colonization now seems impossibly grand, even borderline delusional. But it must have been different then, with the wind of great technological triumph at NASA's back. The moon landing was recently accomplished. The horizons must have seemed limitless.
On the other hand, the new moon-mining venture, Moon Express, would use remote controlled robots to harvest the moon for resources. And Newt's more recent vision calls for tourism and "manufacturing."
Both seem much more depressing than Gingrich's orbital cities of yore. They reflect the basest instincts of the modern capitalist man:
"Let's head to the moon!"
"It'd make for great tourism, and we could mine the hell out of it!"
How bold indeed.