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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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

    That's it. He's got my vote.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. What's in a name?

    Newt. HAHhahahahAHHahahahHAaha.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joseph

    If NASA cared more about creating a better drive system,instead of life long positions they would not need government money.A system that does not use combustible fuel that could be used in consumer vehicles.Politician sellouts in big oils back pockets would never allow such a system.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. Fly Guy in SJ


    You think so? Look at what private industry is doing with space technology right now, then come back and tell us again how they won't do better. They are building – right now, today – launch vehicles that are better and astonishingly cheaper than what NASA has been doing. It's fine and appropriate to leave the research science to NASA – building space telescopes and research satellites, for instance. Those are not things that will make a profit, or are meant to. But launch vehicles? Come on! That's not rocket science anymore, so to speak, which makes NASA's problems in developing new launch vehicles even more appalling. Let NASA build what NASA should build, but then pay private contractors to put it into space. Some rockets will always fail – it's the nature of the beast – but the private sector these days is doing it better and cheaper than NASA.

    The difference between the 1960s and now is that in the 1960s, NASA had a tech start-up mentality that attracted the best and brightest because the knew they would have the opportunity to do the impossible and had the challenge to do it. A lot of those kinds of people are going to companies like Space X these days. NASA no longer has – and maybe can't regain – that "Failure is not an option" mentality.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. 99sparky

    Funny that Hubble's initial failure wasn't mentioned. How much was spent to design & build then place it in orbit only to find that the main mirror was defective? Then how much more for a special shuttle mission to fix it? nasa wasting money? Nah, not them...
    And before you get started, please, don't even bring up the advances we've realized because of nasa. The military's contributions to our advances are much more profound and significant than nasa's. Cellular phone technology, the internet, jet aircraft, emergency medical care, etc... compares very favorably to tang and freeze dried foods and 0-g toilets. How about that 0-g ballpoint pen as opposed to graphite pencils and grease pencils? Way to go nasa!!!

    June 15, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • ztank

      Yes, I'm completely sure that a group of people could predict what will happen to a gigantic mirror when launched into space and they are clearly idiots. What a complete failure. (end sarcasm)

      June 15, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Lewis

      And how many billions are spent on the military? 😉

      Tang wasn't invented for NASA either. You left off some major ones. NASA Spin off if you're not familiar. They operate on a tiny budget compared to the military – so don't compare them.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Meena12345

      Oh BTW your comment about '0g ballpoint pens as opposed to graphite pencils' shows how much you know about space programs. The reason you don't use graphite lead pencils in space is that if the nib(point) of the pencil breaks – because of the 0g it would float and may get into someone's ear/nose or mouth causing injury!!!

      Yes NASA may have faced failures but they aren't stupid and unlike you cant rely on the internet to give you answers to everything. I don't believe any other Nation's Space Agency has had as much success as NASA has – despite having to report to the people who have no scientific background.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Fly Guy in SJ


      I, too, had forgotten about the mirror, I'm glad 99sparky brought it up.

      The mirror was not damaged during launch. As 99sparky said, it was defective. To be more specific, it was ground incorrectly, which made it impossible for the telescope to focus properly. A commission was appointed to investigate the cause of the mistake and the basic findings of the commission were that the vendor who had the mirror contract fouled up by the numbers in every way possible in both the manufacturing and QA aspects of it (that is, they ground it incorrectly and when 2 out of 3 test instruments said the mirror was bad and 1 said it was good, they chose to believe the 1 that said it was good; that instrument itself was also built incorrectly by the same vendor).

      The commission also found that NASA exercised poor oversight of the vendor. If NASA hadn't been so asleep at the switch in the oversight department, the defective mirror would certainly have been discovered and corrected while the telescope was on the ground. Because it wasn't, it required corrective instruments to be made and installed at great expense.

      NASA's biggest failure in the mirror debacle was that they lost confidence in the original vendor during the process because of constant cost overruns and date slippage, yet they stuck with them and used their mirror instead of going with the backup mirror. The backup mirror was built by another vendor, and it was correct and still exists. You can see it at the Smithsonian, it's pretty cool.

      June 16, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. GB_RocketScientist

    NASA can only do what congress tells them to do (or not do)!!!! We've spent the last 2 freaking years picking our azzes because Constellation was shut down, but congress never passed legislation on what it wanted us to do. All they did was pass continuing resolutions again and again. Then, once they passed the policies on what we should do, they failed to fund it.

    NASA can't respond because NASA works for congress and they can't speak out against them.

    My layoff date is fast approaching, I'm am engineer who's going into banking.

    And Obama just said we need more engineers... what a joke!!!!

    June 15, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Fly Guy in SJ


      As an engineer who has been in banking, all I can say is "Noooooooooo! Don't do it!" You'll be sorry, really.

      June 16, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. Robert

    If people only really new how much NASA tolerates waste not only by civil servants but also contractors. I used to work in the aerospace industry for a now defunct space program and I can speak from personal experience that there were people employed that other industries wouldn't even consider hiring. For example several people used to chat all day long with other fellow employees, other would read the newspaper everyday and then dedicate maybe2-3 hours of their day to real work while these people collected more than 100k a year salary. Newt seems to be well informed of how wasteful the government can really be, its time to get rid of many civil servant employees and also eliminate their pension. Everyone else working in the "real world" has to deal with pension less retirement.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      ...and you are obviously a disgruntled...sorry laid off employee. Funny, which employees are usually laid off first? BTW, that is a rhetorical question.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Sorry to tell you this but you are wrong, my team was made up of high performing individuals. The team members that left was by choice including myself, not by being laid off. There are greener pastures out there as in better paying and more satisfying jobs.
      The really smart people realize when its time to leave and find a better job, who really wants to spend an entire career not achieving anything? Three years was enough!
      I apologize but the truth hurts

      June 15, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Flyfish

    NASA needs to become privatized or be folded into the DOD. The amount of waste is appalling, the level of bureaucracy is obstructive to say the least, and quite frankly, the level of incompetency should be unacceptable but is really par for the course.

    In response to Fly Guy in SJ – nothing is rocket science anymore and R&D can and should be privatized for just the same reason.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Fly Guy in SJ

      The problem with privatizing R&D is that a lot of R&D is never directly profitable but provides good research science. If privatize, it will still need to be paid for.

      The "Fly" in my handle refers to fly fishing, too.

      June 16, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. TW

    He is such a blow hard

    June 15, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Wow. Nobody in the USA is happy about anything. Can someone, anyone, come up with something about the US that they're happy with or proud of?

    June 15, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. maine liberal

    Nasa is nothing more than a puppet of the defense department.
    While talking about waste why dont we mention Star Wars and the sci-fi concept of shooting a bullet with a bullet.
    We cant even shoot down one missile when all the factors are known: time location and how many

    June 15, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. J.Crobuzon

    China claims all the planets and has warned us to stop trespassing. What can we do? Like the lilzard guy says, we should have done it when we could. Now Bush has drained our gas tanks and robbed our pockets and it's up to China.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. rizzo

    Well, he is kinda correct. While the Mars Rovers, Cassini and Galileo, among others, were awesome pieces of engineering, the Space Shuttle and ISS programs have been costly and stupid boondoggles. To be fair to NASA, though, most of the issues with the Space Shuttle were the result of Air Force meddling and not theirs.

    Frankly, between this and slagging the Ryan budget plan, he's seeming more and more sane. No wonder all of his people quit, they know it's political suicide to start telling the truth on the campaign trail.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. JB JB

    We (humanity) are in an age of unprecedented scientific discovery, and NASA is the organization doing most of it. NASA is this Nation's technological jewel, any country would be proud to have it.
    The private business ventures have just barely begun to get themselves in orbit around earth, but NASA has probes orbiting other planets and some leaving the solar system.

    What is the private sector's motivation to conduct pure scientific exploration on that scale?

    June 15, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. SW

    Gingrich clearly doesn't have an understanding of space policy. Human spaceflight is by far the most politically unstable part of NASA, as each administration changes its direction. It's consistently underfunded, making it impossible to achieve any of the goals set out for it, such as a return to the Moon or a human trip to Mars. While the private sector can (and is currently working to) do some of the more "routine" aspects of human spaceflight, such as ferrying humans and cargo to the International Space Station, it's unlikely that private companies will invest the substantial R&D funds over decades to carry out more ambitious missions.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • SadToSay

      SW is spot on. A lot of the canceled projects and wasted funding are a result of political fund shifting between administrations.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      I just want to second SW: spot on. Also, it was not at all fair that Gingrich did not mention the, quite frankly, incredible and unparalleled scientific successes of NASA.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
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