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Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century.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

    Not that Newt cares, but I am not a fan of his. He needs to retire, really does.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      Guess what? We don't care either...

      June 15, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      During the Neocon "Contract with America" heyday Newt found himself in the middle of center field right under a fly ball on the last play of the last inning, with his team on the field, and he let it drop because he couldn't keep his junk in his pants. Now he wants to pitch in the World Series. What do YOU think?

      June 15, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. Truthwillsetyoufree

    This has to be the only thing I agree with Gingrich on. I hate to say that. Nasa has done some great things but we can and should do more. I disagree with Obama cutting their funding. If we don't get there someone like China will and get the next level of new findings.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      OH NO, CHINA IS GOING TO FIND OUT SOMETHING!! Run for the hills. Get real. Why should it matter who finds things out. Did we share everything we found about the moon? I kind of think not. Besides, what do you think that they will find?

      June 15, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Knucklehead

      Maybe they'll find a workable solar system, and we will be buying them instead of selling them.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Knucklehead solar system I mean a solar energy system, not another collection of planets...

      June 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truthwillsetyoufree

      You missed the point. enjoy your wit!

      June 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David

    The success of the Mars Rover is far cooler than any terrestrial achievements of the past decade.

    What's cooler, the ability to send inane messages to people we hardly know or discovering that our nearest planet has evidence of water and taking an immense collection of cool photos?

    Our universe is one gigantic crossword puzzle and we do civilization a tremendous disservice when we either a) think we've got it all figured out, or b) stick to the 3 letter words and stop shooting for big stuff...

    June 15, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Free Willy

    NASA is a joke. Space station is 100% waste of money, should have placed it on Moon.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      Um, the whole point of the space station was to test things in flight, not on the ground. A base on the moon would have been as useless for that as a base on Earth. Stop trying to be smart.

      June 15, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. blackwidow

    They are spending the money on the Stargate program. They don't want the public to know about it yet.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. Boater

    Sure, if you outsource the design to India, you can keep the prices down. If you want this to be an AMERICAN venture, (and the LAST American venture, at that) you must pay AMERICAN salaries.... Go ahead–privatize it, send it to India, and soon America's highest paying jobs will be the janitors!!!

    June 15, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      Sadly I agree with you. I know that the current unemployed are going to be joined by several million more in the next few years. America needs to realize that we are like England near the end of their colonial height, teetering on the verge of irrelevance. Our time has come and is gone. It is time for China, India, and other "emerging" countries to get their shot. I know that sux and I will probably lose my job in the next year or two, but that is what happens. Study history.

      June 15, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. electromagneticark

    Agreed with Weasley, that is.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    Lat time I looked there was no law that said the private sector could not rent launch pads from NASA, the Russians or the European Space Agency to go into space and make all that money.

    Corporations are terrified of any risk to the bottom line which is a pity because of all the spin-off technology we got from the moon launch made a lot of them rich and gave the public lots of things we take for granted today.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jorge

    If you want to get the most bang for your buck, let the European Space Agency manage NASA and put it under their Ariane program, by the end of the year they'll probably put 20 heavy payloads into orbit for the price of 5 in the 'states. U.S. political and industrial leadership is full of pompous, overpaid duds who will waste your money anyway so you really have nothing to lose...

    June 15, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      Ariane has problems getting things off the ground. That is why the Russians are launching a lot of things now. China will figure its own problems out and will have a great space launch program in about 10-20 years. Where will America be then? Not launching anything that is not military is where.

      June 15, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. Banzai

    Houston, We have a problem.....

    June 15, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. rajoe

    I hope Americans will come to their senses and elect Gingrich, a real Christian and Natural American to president.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      What is a natural American? White? Over 60? Why does he have to be Christian?

      June 15, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      If that's sarcasm, it's funny, if it's earnest, it's funnier.

      June 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HP

    Wait a minute... so because NASA didn't have enough funding to complete some of there missions they want to cut more funding? How dose that make any sense? NASA dose plenty of AMAZING things and they really don't get much tax money when you look at the big picture anyway. They find a lot of funding through academia and other sources. And he failed to mention how NASA tracks asteroids that are potential threats to the earth, and how they are doing ocean research from space, and how they have found plants in places it was previously thought impossible, and how they sent up numerous satellites which they get ground breaking information from or any of the overly successful rover missions. The rovers on Mars have done there work and much more and lasted years longer than they were supposed to.
    Maybe NASA isn't perfect with money like any business or structure but they certainly do a lot with the money they are given. I wish the general public was as excited and educated about there missions as they used to be.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      NOAA does the ocean research from space. Government and military track the asteroids. NASA is not in those businesses. NASA is in the business of pushing research into space exploration. I have a friend that is working for them on a project that is trying to make food products for the Mars mission. So far it is a huge challenge to make things that will last several years. NASA also launches satellites and shuttle missions (soon to end) all are related to exploration of space. Near space and Earth observation is done mostly be others.

      June 15, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jake

    My Classmate in College Interned for NASA around 2004 or 2005 and he said it was worse than working for a union construction job. He said they did almost no work, and when they did, it was mostly re-reviewing wiring diagrams for the 100th time, and would check off on them again.

    While I'm sure that alot of brilliant and hardworking people work at NASA, he indicated there was an atmosphere of laziness, and working for a large Tech Firm, I have seen that myself in many people. They don't have the motivation of a small company, but enjoy numerous perks that smaller companies envy. I think Privatizing the space industry with such companies as SpaceX or Vigin Galactic, would bring costs down, without outsourcing as much work as you would think to other countries. Of course some stuff is outsourced, even NASA outsources for certain parts and material.

    Hopefully this takes off and inspires a New Generation of Scientists and Engineers in the US which is falling behind other countries fast. Then you we won't have to worry about outsourcing knowledge abroad.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. gron

    typical repub, "let the private sector handle it". It's clear that newt hasn't had a real job in the private sector for decades. Anyone who has worked for corporations can see that there is just as much waste in the private sector.What Newt purposely fails to say is how much of that waste came form private sector cost overruns and how much was the actual fault of the gov. I have no problem with NASA using the private sector, they already do. How much of the NASA equipment and vehicles are actually made by NASA? How's this Newt? Any cost overruns from here on out are absorbed by the corporations and not passed onto the people of the US. Of course no repub would go for that. Newt and his ilk think accountability is only for democrats in our government, repubs and corps are exempt.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  15. Another NASA Insider

    NASA's bigggest reason for "wasting" money has been short-sightedness from Congress and the Executive branch. Funding cuts in major programs forces the programs to take many more years than originally planned. It delays buying the real hardware, but the workforce, which is always the most expensive part, stays in place for years longer than originally intended. Congress mandated 2 redesigns of the Space Station, both of which ended up costing You, the taxpayer, more than the original plan would have if they had stayed the course. Oh, and President Clinton bringing in the Russians on the Space Station cost years and billions more than planned. Ares was overbudget because it was underfunded. There were not enough resources to do the job right in the alloted time. It's not cheap to keep a bunch of rocket scientists employed. NASA management should never have agreed it was possible. Mike Griffin (previous NASA administrator) called it what it was and now he's a university professor. NASA is not against commercial space operations. SpaceX would not exist were it not for a big NASA contract and use of NASA resources to solve their technical problems. Newt's right, there has been a lot of money wasted, but a lot of that should be laid back right on his doorstep from his time as a senator. Most NASA people are more frustrated than him.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • WellWellWell

      That's funny... I thought a lot of people went into science jobs because they wanted to learn new things and change the world.

      Saying that it is not cheap to employ a lot of rocket scientists, just shows that NASA employees are just like everyone else... greedy.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barney

      Perfectly stated. Government officials are visionless Lawyers who can't seem to get out of their own way. Lawyers react by nature. Why do we keep electing this culture to make decisions for us? We need forward thinking businessmen in office, not lawyers. You hire lawyers to protect your interests once you get there, but they shouldn't be making decisions about the future, period.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus

      Couldn't of said it better myself!

      June 15, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |

      It was a boondoggle. Designed for one purpose, to keep Russia's out of work nuclear scientists from building bombs for the Arabs. it was a hugely expensive make-work project that has yielded almost NO tangible, usable data or results. What a waste. It killed so many worthwhile projects.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      "Saying that it is not cheap to employ a lot of rocket scientists, just shows that NASA employees are just like everyone else... greedy." – WellWellWell

      This isn't a communist country where the government dictates salaries and job postings. Rocket scientists are just like eveyrone else – they have families, retirement, college loans, and all the other associated costs that come from a modern economy. They're also highly educated and experienced – most people don't want inexperienced wet-behind-the-ears mechanics working on their cars, so why should we want entry level lowest-bidders working on our most technical programs? That said, the point of the original comment about "expensive to keep rocket scientists around" wasn't that scientists are greedy moneymongers – but that anyone with any sense of project management at all knows you don't ramp up resources early on a project and then have them sitting around on contract before the work they were hired to do is ready for them yet. You wouldn't hire electricians to wire your new home and have them sit around on contract for three months while the carpenters finish putting your framing together, because you decided at the last minute to force the architect to go back to the drawing board for new changes, would you?

      June 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in NJ

      Well, WellWellWell, I assume you think it's OK to get a PhD in Astrophysics and then be underpaid for your work. I guess those rocket scientists might as well suck up that 100k+ of debt they rack up getting that advanced degree, and be mocked by Republican politicians becuase they're not 'simple folk'. I suppose then, that since all NASA Scientists 'must' be altruisitic, according to your rules, the same should apply to doctors, since their only motivation allowed is 'to help people', and to he** with them making fair compensation for their unique valuable skillset.

      I agree, insider. Pols mess up scientific discovery. NASA has created more value for the American people than their cost has ever been. Ignorance of their accomplishments, and the shortsightedness and selfishness of disingenuous politicians and uneducated partisans continues to hold back our country, and until people start valuing science and education as much as they value the NFL and Nascar, we're going to keep sliding towards irrelevance.

      June 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • McCain-in-4

      feh – yeah, riiiiight. The Mars Rovers were meant for a two week jaunt that would be no larger than my yard. In Gingrich's playbook – that program was a colossal failure filled with cost overruns because NASA didn't originally fund the program for X number of years.

      June 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
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