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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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

    get rid of NASA

    let rich people build their own spaceships.

    June 15, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Andy, don't you think that if rich people wanted to build there own spaceships that they would do it? how is Nasa stopping them from making one?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      That is what Richard Branson did, and is what is actually spurring new development.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  2. DavidS

    If Earth loses the space race, we all lose. America has a role and it should do its part. But if we must let Chaina or others sussede on our behalf. WE need NASA, but you will never understand or except why.

    June 15, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • D Russell

      Do we need to be in space – yes. Do we need NASA in its current form – no. NASA only ran well when it was led by Germans and managed by Canadians. After that is simply became a means of transfering federal money to congressional districts. To fix NASA would require that they be forced to focus again on science and engineering. The JPL should be given all work with engines, NASA should focus on the science, and the private sector should provide launch capability. The shuttle program destroyed the American space program for half a decade and will be rememberd as the biggest white elephant in history. It makes me cry to think what could have been done with all that money.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Sure we need a space program but the current NASA program is wasting money by the billions and not producing results based on the money sunk into it. Time to revamp that whole organization. Too much dead weight at NASA.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • D Russell

      Correction – meant to say 'half a century' from conception / planning to retirement

      June 15, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • DCTWMT

      "If Earth loses the space race"????? To whom? Mars? Venus? Vulcan? Good luck when you graduate 5th grade.....

      June 15, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Pipy

      What David S was trying to say is, if the human race loses the space race then we're all stuck here, and eventually something is going to happen that will make Earth mostly or totally uninhabitable to humans. It might be thousands of years from now, but at some point there's going to be another ice age, a huge asteroid will slam into the earth etc. and if we're all still stuck here because we wasted all of our resources, well, we're kinda screwed, as a species I mean.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Roland

    How many failed aircraft has the private sector produce. The private sector is the problem. Please explain to me record war cost. How cokes cost 45 dollars. Look if the problem with the public sector is long term Benefits then fix that. Nasa has made millions of products that US consumers use daily. Please show me the failures at Nasa, I will show you failures in the private sector. Airplanes cost more than shuttles. Federal government wants to cut funding for the F35 engine because it was a failure. Gingrich is being an opportunist and notice he quickly retracted his comments when he thought his rival who stood up for Nasa was gaining an edge. He's saying what he thinks conservatives want to hear and that and the truth often don't coincide.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Derek

      I suspect many aircraft crash in the 19'20's and 30's... but today, we have good reliable planes. The same will be true for space travel. Yes, some new designs will fail, but in 50-100 I have no doubt we will have reliable spaceships. That is the problem with people today, you want to go from inefficiency to perfection immediately. It is why the alternative fuels industry can not get a hold, people want it to be perfect today or scrap it.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      The Federal Government wanted to cut funding for a SECOND F-35 engine, and that was the reason why. Not that is failed, but that we already had a working one and we were spending money on a second one 'just in case'.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Frank

    Nothing is going to change. Its the governments job to waste money. It justifies their being.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. Derek

    Any further space work is pointless until we develop an engine and fuel that can get us to places like Mars in just a few hours or couple of days. All this low orbit stuff is a waste of time. We have learned all we need to learn.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. D Russell

    I can't believe it, but I actually have to admit that I agree with Newt on something. All 'space' money is spent on the ground. NASA has been nothing more that a means of transfering federal money to congressional districts. The shuttle, in spite of being such a seriously flawed concept, was kept running so long BECAUSE IT COST SO MUCH PER FLIGHT. Where do you think all that money went?

    June 15, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Werner Von

    If you change the word NASA to Defense you get about the same results. Nobody wants to spend money on a space program, but defense spending is okay even though war is becoming unpopular. We need a new pyramids era to rebuild the world's economy, we should build them in orbit this time.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. james darnley

    why do we need to go into space again? what is the valuable payback we are going to get from those billions of dollars.nothing thats what.charlie sheen got more for his money from crack rocks then we have from the moon rocks.all we are doing is destoying the ozone layer while children die of hunger.space travel is an impossibility for people.this is real life not a movie.we need to be spending that moneyhere on earth feeding starving children know there;s a real return on your money.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • OtakuAnthony

      That is one way to look at it, but also look at it this way. What happens when we run out of land to live on? What happens if say a nuclear war or some type of accident occurs where a large mass of land cannot be lived on? We would have to live some where if any of those things happen.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  9. runymede

    Finally,,, a republican that agrees with Obama on something. Man! This is newsworthy.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  10. space 1

    I don't think so. Remember Hubble, Voyager, and Chandra. It's called exploration for a reason, there are changes of failure. It's OK to learn from mistakes, and take action to repair it. That's progress, for example, repair Hubble after the embarassing lens problem. It's fixed and working for decades now. That' s progress, we are "can do" country and we will always be. China is the least of our problem, it's ourselves, our inaction and infighting and lack of inspiration, that's the problem.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • D Russell

      I would hope that we got at least a few successes for all that money. All those missions could have been launched by unmanned vehicles and we could have replaced the hubble hundres of times over. The shuttle did not advance technology very much. It was conceived in the 70's and was a FLAWED concept. Putting people at risk for cargo was insane. It was the MOST EXPENSIVE way to put anything in space not the cheapest as it was designed to be. The military realized this right away and bailed. On a cost per technology basis, since the 1970's, NASA=BIG TIME FAIL.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. Googliano

    Have some of you people been to nasa's website and seen all of the programs they have going on and all the science that is going on? It is simply amazing to me when people say that nasa has done nothing or the shuttle is worthless. Wow! Start reading and you will see how wrong you are. There are tons of projects going on, just go ahead and read.
    I totally disagree with people saying we should spend more money on starving people. I have met so many people that just simply waste their money or sort it up their nose. Do you understand that some people are just hopeless? Give them a million bucks and they will blow it all in no time or be dead soon after.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • D Russell

      The shuttle was worthless. It was a FAILED SYSTEM. It failed in three primary ways. 1) It was supposed to be a way to get stuff in orbit cheap – it was the most expensive = fail. 2) It was supposed to cycle quickly – it took months of prep and each vehicle launched only a couple times a year = fail 3) It was supposed to be safe – and yet half the fleet was lost in spite of half a year each on the ground in prep = fail. 4) putting people at risk for cargo is a flawed concept = fail. You did notice that the military abandonded it (even after building its own launch and prep facilities at great expense) because they realized it was a FAILED SYSTEM.

      The issue is not if NASA did some science and have some success, the issue is how much more they SHOULD HAVE ACCOMPLISHED with all that money. Get the point?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. r2y2

    It is wrong to think private industry will do better with the space technology. Private industry by definition will do what is profitable and drop what is not. Space at this age is not profitable. However, there are many new technology and research needs to be developed before it could get to a point when it will be profitable. At the same time, there are going to be many benefits of space research which nobody can see now a lot of which will end up being used by the private sector. Unless we understand this and stop supporting space research and development, we will never further our civilizations. Support Nasa but make them more efficient. Do not expect immediate returns and profits from this but remove its bureaucracy to make it more efficient.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • D Russell

      No one is suggesting that the science and mission planning be given to the private sector for the very reasons you state. NASA would still receive federal money to research and produce the science under a new mandate. Production and assembly would be shared with the private sector but launches would be purely private sector. On a cost basis, the private sector could not possibly do worse with the peoples money than NASA currently does.

      Perhaps it would be best if NASA could be religated to pure science/research and then contract the private sector to build, assemble and launch the science packages themselves.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kris

    1) Republicans want to spend on a bunch of things that cost a lot of money but rail against spending the same amount helping the American people or paying more out of their own pockets to help cover the cost. No matter what, Newt once again is exposing the hypocrisy of Republican politicans.

    2) NASA can be the leader behind the future of American space exploration. The 'Better, Faster, Cheaper' policy from ten years ago was a good philosophy, just unrealistic. But which one of those is American willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice 'Better' and you have crappy products that fail more than work. Get rid of 'Faster' and by the time things are done, people don't care anymore. Many people agree that paying more is not something they want to do. We can't rely on the private sector alone either. It is not as if the government can force them to do this.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kris

    The Constellation project was pretty much doomed to fail from the start. Management at NASA and those in the government at the time did not listen enough to the engineers and designers. When your engineers are telling you that you could make a better product and spend less money than on what you picked, you should listen to them.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. u2canbfmj

    Yes, lets move NASA budget to bailout too big to fail Bankers.. TARP's 800 Billion dollars is 40 NASAs. Let get our priorities straight.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
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