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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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

    The headline makes it sound like it took all the resouces of NASA to find something Newt said that was actually true.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ken

    What the article doesn't mention is that the Pentagon's space program has a larger budget than NASA, yet there is no oversight or accountability because it's classified. Does everyone even know the US has a new classified shuttle program run by the Pentagon? Probably not. More than likely NASA will be dismantled so their budget money can go to the Pentagon's space program and further hide spending from the public.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Raj

      Interesting piece of information. Thanks!

      June 15, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Charles

    I wouldn't call fixing anything a success. "Look! Our crappy telescope keeps breaking and we keep fixing it! Success!"

    June 15, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      If it's so easy to build a telescope satellite that can deal with the extreme temperatures, high radiation, and constant bombardment of small particles traveling at high speed, then you do it!! What about your car? That darn thing needs constant maintenance. Does that mean it's a piece of junk?

      June 15, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Dude, everything needs repairs. Even the best BMW's. And to call NASA's telescopes crappy only reveals your ignorance. For example, the WMAP telescope of NASA allowed us for the first time to study with precision the beginnings of our universe, something unthinkable even 20 years ago. The list of scientific achievements made possible by NASA is long.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Peasant

    She turned me into a Newt.

    I got better...

    June 15, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. jerry

    What has the govt ever gotten right without it costing 100x more than they say it will?

    June 15, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. gavin

    Newt is right about the NASA program. It has just been another example where Government spends an enormous amout of money on a program with little if any tangible results. What is the overall cost of NASA and what is being done to make this program more efficient and more effective?

    June 15, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. prince

    I am disgusted at you airheads that don't know what this nation is doing . We have the first military division that has nukes that may be safely transported and used in a battle field situation. This largely negates the 2 million man army on the battlefield. One more of my favorites is the small computers that allow us to fire a 6" tact. nuke and hit a car tag in China.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    Agreed. Grandiose plans are announced without the financial backing or the public support to carry it out. I'm not saying that the public sector can't develop these products, but wait for the outrage when there an accident with a commercial tourist launch vehicle. And I believe in space exploration and NASA's role. We simply can't change direction or focus every 4 or 8 years and expect these huge, high-profile successes. The moon program was an anomaly, the succeding administrations did not touch the initial plan (they would probably have been lynched if they did). And that's the key, the public support back then was enormous.

    June 15, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. Roger

    I remember those days right after Apollo. I remember that NASA was looking for a new direction and offered up a series of programs. Among them were a permanent base on the moon and continued work on the space plane. Congress wasn't buying. Congress thought the shuttle was cool so that's what congress got.

    I don't blame NASA for congress's poor judgement. But we can right the ship. Turn NASA loose doing what NASA ought to be doing which is far-reaching research at the edge of technology. Let NASA help drive this country forward. The private sector will benefit just as it did from Apollo.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. jfc1

    ""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.""

    maybe if they weren't government bureaucrats

    June 15, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. grath

    The American mannned space program: In with a bang. Out with a whimper.

    Can anybody seriously taking Gingrich's opinion about manned space travel? This is a guy who wildly flings words and opinions around like spaghetti in hopes that some of it will stick to the wall.

    Gingrich likely got all of his 'inside' information (while he was sailing near the Greek isles?) from quislings and cowards in NASA management who would not dare to offer opposing views to bone headed, vacuous decisions about evicerating the U.S.manned space program.

    The Obama administration has sold out the American manned space program to private space companies whose primary focus is development of cargo ships tot he I.S.S. and selling $200,000 tickets to millionaires for rides into space. American astronauts will be dpendent upon Soyuz taxis to the I.S.S. at ~ $65 million dollars a pop.

    Whole generations of U.S. scientists, engineers and operational personnel with unique expertise in manned space travel will be lost.

    Whose flags are you going see planted on the moon now and beyond the moon? We as a nation have become squawkers, whiners and tremulous excuse makers except when it comes to prosecuting criminals who tanked the economy or something less risky – like wars..

    June 15, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. jeff

    A fully private sector run space program would not work. The private sector needs to genereate enormous profits. There are no profits to be made in sending a space probe to Saturn or sending humans to the Moon again, or to Mars. Space exploration is not about profit but about human acheivement and discovery.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan in Michigan

      @jeff – I agree with what you said. There are some things, such as deep space probes and scientific missions that likely wouldn't happen in the private sector. The private sector would be best left to tourism-type stuff, such as flights across the world in a couple hours by planes/shuttles that simply ascend, let the Earth rotate, and descend (something currently being worked on by Virgin and another company), along with future stuff such as moon landings for private clients or trips to see a passing comet or asteroid up close. If people will pay for it, then I see no reason the private sector couldn't take off in this area (no pun intended). I could see vacationing on the moon for a few days within the next fifty years through the private sector.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jay A. Gonzalez

    Newt is completly right about this. Nasa wastes billions and billions of dollars for what? Yet some people will continue to ask the dumbest questions about Newt. He is the most intelligent person in the race and yet the media is hurting his campaign by these B.S. accusations. Shut up and let him lead.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      I'm not arguing that things could probably be run more efficiently at NASA, but there are a huge number of factors that NASA deals with that no one else anywhere in the world has to worry about. We still know relatively very little about outer space. NASA has deal with high risk missions due to the fact that have to prepare for the unknown...and yet somehow keep people alive during that time. This is no small task, and Newt is being his usual pompous self pretending he knows more about it than the experts do.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. Programmr

    Newt is right about the waste. Look at what SpaceX has accomplished with a tiny fraction of NASA's yearly budget. There is no new earth shattering technology in what SpaceX is doing, just far better management and far less overhead because it's not using the "infrastructure" of Apollo and Shuttle. The truth is most of that "infrastructure" isn't needed anymore.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan in Michigan

      Yes! Thank you Programmr. I couldn't remember the name of the other private space flight program besides Virgin's. Now I know it's SpaceX. I'm looking forward to seeing more of both sides' innovations.

      June 15, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Corey

    1958 to 2008 (50 years) total NASA budget: $472 billion.

    2001 to 2011 (10 years) total spent on Iraq/Afghanistan wars: $1.2 trillion +

    A total inability to figure out what our priorities should be: Priceless.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Rasati

      +1 agreed

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

      Ha! Well said!

      June 15, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • rusty,tucson

      Well said Corey!!! Everybody in this country is so fixated on killing people around the Globe that we can't do anything to advance civilization in positive way!!!

      June 15, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      I agree completely!

      June 15, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Tony Atlas


      June 15, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Tony Atlas

      TOTALLY misread that. Sorry.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • cara

      Corey for President! You got my vote!

      June 15, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • clarke


      June 15, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      Compensating for inflation raises the total NASA budget for 50 years to about $790 billion. Still far, far less than what we spend to kill Muslims.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
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