These natives of New Guinea highlands, possess a Stone Age culture, hardly contacted by Western Civilization, and are ignorant of wristwatches, soft drinks and frozen food. But they knew about Apollo 11. They knew men had walked on the Moon. And asked "who walks on the Moon now?"
There is a wonderful pro apologia by Carl Sagan for manned space exploration and its importance for all of us, and gives a thought provoking explanation on why we have turned from the stars and turned inward.
Carl Sagan in reflections about what would the last Shuttle launch (he knew the program would eventually end at the time of this video production) made the case that the optimism raised by space exploration, the ability to solve hard technological issues, the accomplishment of long term goals that make us focus on being humans is more than important than being just "American" or "British" or "Tongan" or "Chinese" and the exuberance of discovery radiates out from the scientists to society at large, allowing us to focus on issues in other fields that aren't related to space exploration. A renewed sense in science to fundamentally change a generation like the race to the Moon did in the 1960s.
While Newt's march for the Republican nomination has starts and stops, his campaign in Florida (where many former NASA and contractors from the Shuttle program are without work) has drawn new attention to some of Newt's goals, with a fresh round of (to me) very puzzling ridicule. I'm not a Republican. I'm not a conservative. But I believe in giving the devil his due, and of all the candidates, Newt seems to be the only one that gets Ronald Reagan's basic understanding of American's optimism. While all the Republican candidates seem to be trying to grab Ronald Reagan's mantle, they just come across like a bunch of dour school teachers smacking their pupils on the knuckles with a ruler, Newt at a basic level fundamentally understands the optimism of a big project like space exploration (more so than Obama)
Mitt Romney (along with quite a few moderates and liberals and a lot of conservatives) have openly mocked Newt's plan for a lunar base and several space stations because it's unaffordable. But the New York Times looked at this specific issue, and suggests the ridicule is unwarranted.
Could the United States establish a moon colony and develop a new propulsion system for going to Mars? All within eight years of a Newt Gingrich presidency, as Mr. Gingrich promised this week? The answers seem to be technologically yes, economically iffy and politically very difficult. Not surprisingly, at a debate on Thursday, Mr. Gingrich’s Republican opponents lambasted a moon colony as a loony, budget-busting idea in a time of fiscal austerity. Mitt Romney said he thought a moon base would cost hundred of billions of dollars or more. “I’d rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.,” he said. Ron Paul quipped, “I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.”
In one of his more eloquent moments, Newt defended his idea and made a compelling case for American interests in space exploration.
NASA in a recent study has concluded that smaller rockets that are available today (instead of the proposed newly designed rockets in President Bush's ambitious "Constellation Program") would be much cheaper and allow Americans to return to the Moon in less than ten years.
But Mr. Gingrich talked of overturning the status quo at NASA, pushing to work faster, to accept greater risks and let private companies take the lead role. “It’s not something that should be mocked or should be seen as a remote possibility,” said Michael Gold, director of the Washington office of Bigelow Aerospace, a private space company. “The reason this is both possible and economically viable is that many of the systems and technology, if not all, already exist.” Bigelow, using technology licensed from NASA, has plans to launch two inflatable space stations, capable of housing 36 people, and the same technology could be scaled up to provide living quarters on the moon.
While the New York Time's article says President Obama fundamentally has the same vision for NASA as Gingrich, it's believed he's more willing to invest political capital to see his vision brought to pass because of his fundamental beliefs in space exploration, unlike the President.
This is Newsweek's cover for the Monday issue (oh dear!):