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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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

    Newt get a clue. nasa uses the private sector for everything.
    Boeing lockheed etc.

    nasa is part of the military industrial complex

    June 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Apollo Woman

    Yes, NASA could increase efficiency with it's allocation of the federal dollars, but I for one think NASA spending is an easy target for budget hawks, on either side of the left/right political paradigm.
    For Pete's sake people, NASA Is less that 1% of of the Federal Budget. Let's not be penny wise and pound foolish. If Newt wants to be taken seriously, he should direct his cost cutting zeal towards the Pentagon and the US empire around the globe and "nation building". NASA spinoff benefits to you and me are endless (e.g. We've all got more computing power in our cellphones now that the astronauts carried to the Moon.)

    June 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ToshOyeah

    In short NASA has not been building off of prior missions and experience (partly due to changing political winds). The cost of developing new aerospace systems is tremendous and often difficult to accurately estimate. This is how NASA gets into trouble. Instead of taking a stepping stone approach to reach well chosen goals (e.g. Mercury and Gemini leading up to Apollo), NASA whipsaws back and forth between different goals and technologies with little payoff.

    1.) NASA needs a direction
    2.) NASA needs to hire people that know how to estimate costs in the real world (e.g. people that have designed and operated aerospace systems)
    3.) NASA needs to develop a reasonable plan on how to reach the goal broken down into rudimentary steps
    4.) NASA needs to carefully break the steps down into a series of sequential missions so that one mission isn't burdened with developing a dozen new technologies and techniques
    5.) The politicians need to support NASA's goal and not change their mind and funding every other minute.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amused

      Just Skip down to #5 and you have the real culprit behind NASA's budget problems cost overruns and mission changes! The source of all of this is CONGRESS !!!! It is CONGRESS who sets NASA's budget and who keeps playing political games with projects they know little to nothing about! If CONGRESS would actually ALLOW nasa to complete programs as planned, there would be MUCH MORE accomplished already! It IS CONGRESS who keeps jerking NASA around! Let's put the blame where it belongs! Nasa needs MORE funding – NOT LESS!

      June 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Apollo Woman

    Another NASA Insider, that's exactly my point. The friggin' politicians are the LAST people that should be dictating fiscal prudence to NASA. You NASA folks have done an outstanding job for 50 years, with little consideration from the politican class. Nixon cut the last Moon landings, far too many democrats and liberals have howled that we should spend that money "on earth" (which is exactly where the money IS SPENT) , George W implemented Constellation without considering where the money was going to come from, Obama chopped Constellation, and on and on.
    Long story short, these political clowns leave NASA twisting in the wind.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jessica

    "ought to be getting out of the way and encouraging the private sector," Mr. Salamander, that is exactly what NASA is doing. Also when congress changes the plans for NASA every four or five years you cost them and me tons of money with your wishie-washie-ness

    June 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alex

    Yes, of course it is all NASA's fault that they have spent billions of dollars on cancelled projects while hog tied by the executive and legislative branches. NASA is subject to the whims of Congress, who holds the purse-strings, to do whatever congress says should be funded or not funded. They are also subject to the direction of the president, who often wants to cancel the projects of their rival predecessor and start their own. Obviously they are intentionally wasting tax payer money.

    Anyway what has NASA research ever done for us? Aside from digital cameras, cordless power tools, safer air travel, fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores all year round, GPS, satellite television, MRI machines, sunglasses, air purifiers, unmanned aerial vehicles, global weather prediction abilities, advances in robotics, …

    June 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NASA Brat

    I grew up during the 50's and 60's while my father contracted to NASA. The fact that NASA is a shell for thousands of contractors and sub-contractors that turn out projects that were only a generation ago the stuff of dreams is a wonder. When I was a kid my father alluded to the fact the management system was outdated but in some cases had to be. A lot had to be done and in a short period. Putting humans into space was a political decision, not a scientific approach. Since NASA is not a publically owned company and at the mercy of publicity seeking money grubbing perverts and liars in Congress (please try and tell me that isn’t true) it's a wonder they still exist at all.
    Keep in mind NASA provides jobs, promotes technology, requires better and grounded education, lays the groundwork for the everyday tech we take for granted are actual returns on the investment, Can you really say that about the War machine? The expectation are the highest for that department and its share of the budget the lowest and it still provides more than it takes.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moondog

      Take 20% of the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and direct NASA to put us on Mars in 10 years. If they fail, disband the organization and allow the private sector to move forward.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dan Bednarik

    Newt, just shut up ok?

    June 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ed

    NASA is indeed a case study on how a successful Agency with a specific mission can turn into a burecratic nightmare that can't effectively administer money or programs. NASA currently lacks management skills, leadership, vision, cost control and realistic objectives. The same as the rest of the fat and ineffective government.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Oswald Jones

    The problem is that for the past 20+ years NASA has been whipsawed by Congress over changing budgets and priorities. It is not NASA that has canceled one program after another. If Newt wants to blame anyone for the dismal state of America's manned space program, he should look to himself and his Congressional colleagues.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mike

    I think the whole program is a waste. Where are we going and what are we going to do when we get. You can't live on these other planets so what is the point?

    June 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • McCain-in-4

      Mike, if you don't "KNOW" that the NASA programs are a complete waste, what part of the picture are you missing? Commercial Microwave Ovens? Improvements in Aerodynamic testing? Airline Safety? Remote Sensing? Microelectronics? Rethink your question, please!

      June 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bigred

      Research Helium-3..

      June 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. excitizen

    "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."

    Same old hypocrisy, same old lies, same complete lack of morals…Same old Newt.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. buzz lightyear 69


    June 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Buzz, get yourself a good telescope, and you can easily see the remains of all the Apollo missions, left on the surface of the moon.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SGT


    June 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • PatSJ

      When you SHOUT, no one listens.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • McCain-in-4

      In one word: yes. Any more words, and you tea-partiers will have to pay for them. What's a toilet seat go for nowadays?

      June 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mickie

    2 main things cause technology to take so long and cost so much to develope...

    One being that politicians as much as they like to complain about costs, love to stretch out the contracts in their own districts... (look at Boehner and the GE engine plant in CIncinatti...the whole idea that the new generation fighters needed 2 different engine options is ludicrious and makes no sense in any way.. So now mechanics would have to be trained on 2 engines, stock 2 sets of parts, etc....)

    Second is that becuase these things are delayed (typically for political and financial reasons) new tech is developed and the project repeatedly gets updated. This is a good/bad scenario. IT guarantees that anything we send out tneds to be a decade or more beyond anyone else, but it make sit vastly more expensive. Look at the f22's and f35. We basicly skipped a whole generation of fighters because leaps in advancement. The bas side is that we end up with 500 million dollar bombers and 100 million dollar planes. Because the price tag is so high, limited umbers are built which then makes the individual pricetag even higher as the R&D is spread about. God forbid we ever get into a real large scale war because we could never produce enough f35's, stealth bombers, etc to fight it. Fortunately, out technological edge kind of prevents that from happening anytime soon.

    June 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
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