NASA insider: Some truth to Gingrich's barb
NASA is "standing in the way" of new opportunities, Newt Gingrich said Monday at a debate among GOP presidential candidates.
June 14th, 2011
08:13 PM ET

NASA insider: Some truth to Gingrich's barb

After Newt Gingrich's harsh comments about NASA during Monday's night's debate between GOP presidential hopefuls, you'd guess the outrage from the nation's legendary space agency would be deafening.

So far today, all we've heard from Houston and Washington are crickets.

For those who missed it, Gingrich accused NASA's bureaucracy of wasting hundreds of billions of dollars that it's spent since the 1969 moon landing. Without such waste, he said, "we would probably today have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles."

NASA is "standing in the way" of a "new cycle of opportunities" when it "ought to be getting out of the way and encouraging the private sector," said the former House speaker.

The government agency that fulfilled President Kennedy's Cold War challenge to send a man to the moon within a decade chose not to comment. "It is inappropriate for us to comment on election rhetoric," said today's one-line statement from the communications office.

Why so quiet? Some NASA officials suspect Gingrich may be letting us know that the emperor has no clothes.

Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.

Instead of a bounty of exploration riches, Gingrich said, NASA has produced "failure after failure."

The space shuttle, which will lift off a final time next month, was originally designed to fly 50 missions per year at $10 million per flight. That never happened. The International Space Station was first priced at $8 billion to design build and develop. That price tag eventually totaled more than $100 billion. NASA's list of expensive and less-than-successful programs includes the X-33, the Constellation, the X-38, the Ares I, and the Ares V, which were all canceled before they came to fruition.

The former House speaker didn't mention the shuttle's well-known successes, including countless research missions, fixing the Hubble Telescope and building the International Space Station.

"Most people know that there's a lot of truth to what Newt's been saying," said a NASA executive who asked not to be identified so he might speak more frankly. "But they're doing their best to compose the nation's space agenda in the face of all the constraints of operating within a government bureaucracy."

What Gingrich didn't say last night is that he agreed with NASA's 2011 budget - which was approved by President Obama.

The "Obama administration's budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves strong approval from Republicans," Gingrich wrote in an editorial with former Rep. Robert Walker.

NASA has been fostering programs during the past few years aimed at using privately developed rockets and orbiting vehicles for U.S. space missions.

Space Exploration Technologies, aka Space X, has been contracted to use its Dragon orbiter - after it's fully developed - to resupply the space station. The stakes for NASA to reconfigure are high, said the NASA executive.

"NASA will either undergo a paradigm shift now to figure out how to work with the private sector - or it will probably collapse."

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Filed under: NASA • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Space
soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. Jim

    Gingrich would know failure. He failed as a Congressman, he failed as Speaker, and he is going to fail as a Presidential Candidate. He's the main reason Congress spent $40 Million to find a stain on a dress. Between him and Ken Starr, think of all the good that money could have done. And all for a Censure, because Clinton lied to try and protect his marriage. What an absolute @$$.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JK

      Uh... had Clinton told the truth from the get go, that $40 mil would have never been spent and we would never have heard of Ken Starr. Put the the blame where it lies.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChristianC

      How about staying on the subject at hand, which has to do with NASA?

      June 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      OK, riddle me this, Batman, what did Bill getting a hummer in the White House have to do with investment fraud in Arkansas?

      But, yes, NASA has been an abject failure. After all, it's not like they put rovers on Mars or anything. It's not like they intercepted dust from a comet. It's not like they put up space telescopes and repaired one several times. It's not like they built a space station.
      Oh, wait, they DID do all of that! And more!
      Were there some boondoggle programs? Yes. Name ANY US government operation that HASN'T had its boondoggles and debacles. You can't, because they all have.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dope Smoking Hippie

      @jim: Don't forget he failed as a husband too.. Cheating on a cancer stricken wife has him a special place in hades reserved.. That's soo uncool.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. someone

    We need Space Stations and Outposts... not scientific research robots. Humans can get 20 times more done and they can design the robots AFTER we create civilizations outside our own world.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • GwT

      And the costs of sending a human into the harshest environment known to life itself are 100 times the cost.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      GWT, 100 times is grossly overstating things. Have you seen how much NASA's Curiosity rover's cost has risen? It is now pushing $3 billion. A manned Mars mission won't cost $300 billion. Some concepts, such as Zubrin's are as low as $30 billion. We just need to get the pork-addicted Congressmembers out of the way.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capercorn

      Oh come on, robots have to pave the way for us humans. Besides, they work for free, you don't have to feed them, and best of all, if they break, you don't have to write a letter to a grieving widow/widower.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      You forget one small thing. Space is hostile. REAL hostile. As in, with current technology, we can't protect an astronaut crew on interplanetary missions. Indeed, there is a great risk just going to the moon!
      So, if we started sending humans now, we'd have corpses arriving at the other end. Send robots, get data.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Caper corn... on the other hand, Spirit died because it got stuck in a sand pit. An astronaut would simply have gotten out and pushed.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Wzrd, that is what the Space Station is for, to teach us how to survive in space for long periods of time.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capercorn

      @Brian: And then the astronaut died, because he couldn't build shelter with the supplies available on the Martian surface. It is tedious, but robots must go before us, lest people die unnecessarily. And do remember that the hopeful estimate was that Spirit would only work for about 90 days.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Capercorn... Why would the astronaut die? He forgot to bring along the supplies he needed? If we're that stupid, we have no business going to Mars in the first place. For the record, most Mars missions call for pre-positioning supplies there and making sure everything is safe before sending astronauts.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • subjax

      Brian - the space station is in low earth orbit, within the Van Allen radiation belts and well-protected from the serious radiation that poses the greatest risk to interplanetary astronauts... but the point is moot, anyway. No important future human spaceflight objectives will even be considered without a slew of robotic precursor missions, and even the most fervent human spaceflight advocates concede that on a dollar-per-data byte basis, there's no comparison. Robotic spacecraft that return data over years or decades are a far more efficient and economical way to explore the solar system.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Capercorn

      @Brian: And most mission plans incorporate building of shelter on the martian surface using materials available on mars, with a minimized number of carry ins. All these methods MUST be tested before implementation, and the safest way to do so is with robotic testing. Do remember that in all likelihood, the first manned mission to mars will be a one way trip; the astronauts there will have to develop a way to sustain a village on their own, as frequent resupply would not be possible.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
    • bam

      yeah EXACTLY! if we had sent humans to Saturn instead of those 2 rovers they could have in a month ran farther than these rovers drove. not get stuck in a crater, examined rocks for water by trying to make mashed potatoes with it and waved to the cameras..... these robots are a waste of money! next Saturn mission we should send palin and gingrich instead of these remote control thingers

      June 15, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. David Hoffman

    This nation was more interested in flipping McMansions with liar loans, worrying about how to implement a Christian theocracy, investing in HIPHOP and RAP, spending billions on a failed drug war, getting involved in a unnecessary war in IRAQ, and sending money to hateful Arab countries(long single car commutes) than investing in space exploration, fiber to the home internet, high speed rail, and birth control/population control. And the party of Gingrich (Republican) is at least 50% responsible for that. If we had been wise enough not to start the drug war and the second Iraq war, we would have had enough money for those nice space stations.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • GwT

      Sshhhhhh!!!!!! Didn't you get the memo? Rational thought is not allowed. ;-)

      June 14, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indy B

      @David H + Gwt.... Yeah the only comments allowed are narrow minded partisan inflammatory comments by gibberish speaking paid trolls.. Please mention how the Jabberwocky was responsible for the boom boom in the champagne room, or why Jennifer Connoly is not the baby David Bowie has been looking for.. Try and stay on topic here... Now back to the rabble.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • bam

      rational thought left when the "DRUG WAR" got mentioned cuz legalizing ALL drugs would stop this, a rational person wouldnt single out 1 drug cuz that would be idiotic to the point.
      but then again a rational person would understand drug addicts are what feeds the drug flow. but hey they arent the problem. but then it costs money to help them stop so instead give them more drugs so our workforce can be fatter dumber and higher aka much better shape than chinas poor

      June 15, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Darryl, Sallisaw OK

    I do not like Gingrich but when someone is right, they're right. NASA has been a failure and we could be living on the moon, maybe even Mars, if guys like Bury Rutan were allowed to do it. Unfortunately, space has been taken over by the military and we cannot even get a permit to fly into space lest we wander up to a $100,000,000 military satellite and take a picture. So we blame NASA and continue to give them money, which they mainly use to put more military junk into orbit.

    Imagine if the military had a gee-whiz expensive gadget sitting on earth and couldn't erect a fence or even a keep out sign. They'd be worried that someone might wander by, no? Well, the sky if full of those gadgets and we're not allowed to go near.

    Alas......

    June 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Darryl, the military has their own budget for their own space program which is SEPERATE from NASA's program & budget. And, yes, the military seems to be the only organization launching wothless spy satellites into space. Find out on the internet if you doubt me.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Darryl, aside from about ten (out of 134) Shuttle flights, all between 1985 and 1992, NASA has never launched military satellites. In fact, NASA doesn't launch satellites any more, they pay commercial companies to do so, the same companies the military uses. The military has it's own space budget, and by all accounts it is greater than NASA's.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. norker

    the biggest problem with NASA is that its become an expensive jobs program for powerful congressweasels to funnel pork to their home districts. want a new rocket? nope, its got to be built with shuttle components, built by existing contractors. screw that. give it a gawds damned budget and get the hell out of the way, and you'll see something.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Capercorn

      Um... Shuttle components are cheap, and have a proven track record? There is a saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it; reinventing the wheel would serve no purpose for future rocket designs.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Capercorn, Shuttle components are anything but cheap and their track record is that they cost around $4 billion per year to maintain, whether we fly them or not (i.e., 1987 and 2004.) Their only advantage was that they were available and could give a replacements system a jump-start. We could have built a relatively simple Shuttle-derived rocket five years ago, while Shuttle components were still in production and the people who knew how to build them were still employed by NASA and its contractors. Now, that advantage is lost. Production lines for the SRBs and Tanks are silent. Most of the employees are gone and would be fools to come back because NASA tells them "this time we won't fire you, honest!" By NASA's own admission, a Shuttle-dervived rocket won't be ready until 2016 (outsiders say much later.) There is no good reason to keep using the Shuttle heritage hardware. The Solid Rocket Boosters were cheap TO DEVELOP but expensive in operation, due to the need to disassemble them, send them by rail back to Utah to be cleaned and reloaded with fuel, and then sent by rail back to Kennedy to be stacked one atop another to form a new booster. And after all that, we still only have a rocket of middling-peformance (it has very high thrust, all other traits are suspect) which in the end has no off-switch and when it fails it tends to fail without warning and with catastrophic results. The Space Shuttle Main Engine is very expensive, much more expensive than Delta IV's RS-68 engine, it was okay for Shuttle because we brought those expensive engines home to use them again. All of the new Shuttle-derived concepts throw those expensive engines away after each flight. No, this is NOT the way to go with our next manned launch vehicle. Let's build something affordable to carry us into the future, instead of repeating the mistakes of the past.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Brian

    Gingrich supported The Space Shuttle and Space Station while he was in office. His House wrote the laws that directed how much funding NASA would get and on what NASA could spend it. NOW he's complaining about NASA spending it's funding the way he directed them to? Ah, politics!

    And for the record, the $8 billion to $100 billion cost comparison for the Space Station is not apples-to-oranges. As the article states, $8 billion was for design and development. It did not Include launch costs. The $100 billion figure DOES. The equivalent figure to $8 billion is the actual design and devlopment costs of the Space Station, which was about $32 billion, four times the $8 billion figure. But the $8 billion figure was in 1984 dollars, which is around $16 billion in today's dollars. Space Station ended up costing about twice what it was planned to. Most of that can be blamed on the two Space Shuttle disasters.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      That should read "is apples-to-oranges"' of course.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. norker

    and for the record, nasa has had some spectacular successes as well. hubble space telescope, spirit and opportunity, etc.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. really

    a space station? for who?
    The problems here on EARTH are a bit more pressing than some rich mans vacation to the "space station".

    Close it down..

    June 14, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      The Russians sell vacant seats to the Space Station to rich tourists, and suddenly that to you is the only reason the Station exists? Sheesh.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capercorn

      Tell that to people living 200 years from now, who suddenly need resources from space in order to survive. The Space Station is our baby step into the universe. We need to take it, if we're going to take long term survival of the human race seriously.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      NASA missions are peanuts compared to the money that goes into the "pressing problems" here. With all the money thrown at education, fighting cancer, and poverty, those problems are all showing no progress or are actually getting worse. On the hand, take a look at some photos of Mars or Hubble images and tell me you didn't get something pretty nice for your tax dollars.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hello?! Hubble!

    We've learned more about our universe through NASA since Hubble than we ever learned between then and 1969.

    It seems Newt is either ignorant of scientific developments in the past 20 years or he thinks Americans are too stupid to appreciate any space missions that don't involve sending space cowboys on dangerous missions to prove how much better we are than Russia.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Capercorn

    Um... Since when is anything involving humans working in space cheap and simple? The reason Apollo got the budget that it did was that it made American ICBM technology look good compared to Soviet ICBM tech. Once we did that, Washington saw no more reason to continue funding Lunar exploration. NASA has done amazing work given the relatively small budget it has. And perhaps the former Speaker needs to be reminded that a Lunar outpost was in the works, until it was sacrificed to appease the Budget Gods.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Indy B

      @Capercorn: Oh so now you're a math whiz eh?.. You think all these current and past space projects were done under a Newt budget?.. where's your proof besides him being the speaker during that time.. Where was his oversight, getting out of the way, or clamoring then? Mmm?... I see where you're going here.. It's still the Jabberwocky's fault.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jabberwocky

      @Indy B: I'm tired of your slanderous lies and accusations! You're the one who was at the tea party meeting not me! You conspired with the Dormouse and the Mad Hatter to have Newt smear that lipstick on the Cheshire Cat's talking Mushroom.. You'll see me in court..

      June 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capercorn

      First off, last time I checked, Jabberwocky refers to a chat bot. Second, the intent of my post was to signify that NASA's ability to do anything is based entirely on what Congress appropriates for it. And yes, I am a math whiz. Thank you very much.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mark

    The list of astoundingly successful NASA funded missions to explore the Universe since the 60's is very impressive. Gingrich should be thankful that he has lived in this era of space exploration rather than taking cheap jabs. Most likely he just hasn't been paying attention.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Capercorn

      Public opinion surveys indicate that there is a widespread belief that NASA's budget is like 15% of the Federal Budget, when in reality it's more like less than half a percent. NASA is an easy target for the uninformed/quick to anger crowd.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John R

    Nice lipstick.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Indy B

      He wears the same color as my girl.. Now I'm going to have her switch colors.. Gross.. Even if I liked men I could pull better than Newt. Maybe his real name is Rebecca and she's being chased by aliens, so she dresses like a philandering corrupt politician?.. Where's Ripley when you need her? Ever notice how aliens are never our friends? Death always comes from above.. Heaven is above.. Maybe Newt wants to bomb heaven?

      June 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Eduardo

    I'm sorry... but I HAVE to comment on this articles inaccuracies.

    "NASA's list of expensive and less-than-successful programs includes the X-33, the Constellation, the X-38, the Ares I, and the Ares V, which were all canceled before they came to fruition."

    First. Stop putting "the" in front of everything. Thats not how us space people call these things. Constellation was a PROGRAM that involved building Ares1 and Ares V. There is no such thing as "the Constellation." By de facto... canceling C
    onstellation means canceling Ares 1 and Ares V. They are PART of Constellation.

    Also, the X38 is up and flying right now its just not under NASA. The project was militarized.

    Honestly... I'm a big CNN fan... but this article lacked any serious research.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brian

      A safe bet is that "X-38" was supposed to be "X-30", NASA's first attempt to replace the Shuttle. It failed.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. Corey

    NASA is not at fault for the waste and cancelled programs. That blame should be placed solely at the feet of politicians. The management of NASA gets shuffled every few years. Presidents put in place programs only to have them squashed by the next president. Such as the Constellation Program that Bush started and Obama ended.

    In under 10 years we have spent over $1.2 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Now consider that from 1958 to 2008 the total budget for NASA was roughly $472 billion. Less than half in 50 years. This money has contributed to putting us on the moon, putting robots on Mars and in to deep space, an International Space Station, countless inventions. And let us not forget it's contribution to the understanding of our universe and how it was created. The staggering amount of science and technology that NASA has contributed to the world far, far outweighs any waste. Without NASA we would be living in a much different world. Few people truly understand the achievements of NASA.

    The funding for NASA should be increased tenfold. What you call waste, I call investment in a glorious future.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      Well put, Corey, but you haven't mentioned the valuable-to-everyman environmental data coming down from the remote sensing satellites in low earth orbit that NASA has built for many decades now. This data helps with understanding crop health, water resources, ocean currents and weather patterns, atmospheric properties, etc., etc., etc.

      June 15, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Don

    Queen Isabella, I believe I can find a faster way to get to China and make our nation richer and more technologically advanced by developing new ships and sails! I just have to go where no man has gone before....

    Sorry Columbus.......we have a tight budget and I can't afford to give you one half of one percent to explore any "new worlds" or create any silly inventions...

    June 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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