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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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