Presidential hopeful promises travel to the Moon, Mars

Renewed interest in travel to the Moon and Mars? It was just the song that Florida voters wanted to hear. After a virtual grounding of the U.S. space program not long ago, the promise yesterday by republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich to bring multiple daily launches to Florida was music to their ears. A permanent base on the Moon and new technology that would enable quick flights to Mars sweetened the deal.

“By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American,” said Gingrich at a rally in Cocoa on Florida’s Spacecoast reports Spaceflight Now.

To pay for that and more, Gingrich suggested setting aside 10 percent of NASA’s budget (about $1 billion) for prize incentives aimed at the commercial space sector with a focus on developing new technology (warp drive?) to make flight faster.

Continuing his grandiose plan, Gingrich added “We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.”If that plan happens, there is no shortage of commercial operations that might be in line for that cash. But the space community, operating in the real world, has been headed in a different direction, already funding commercial space ventures.

In preparation for the future, NASA has awarded $millions to several private contractors in the last few years for the construction of space taxi’s able to fly to the International Space Station now that the shuttles have been retired.

Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in 2011’s round of grants was “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release at the time.

One such new market already has a player. Space Adventures already has experience as the only company to have booked and offered commercial space travel, delivering astronauts to the International Space Station for a round-trip price of $150 million.

“The moon holds a special place in all of our hearts. It’s a symbol of the space future that humanity wishes for, a symbol of our curiosity, and something that we see every night. When the private moon mission launches, the eyes of the world will truly be upon those people, and it will truly be an extraordinary event,” Eric Anderson of Space Adventures told International Business News.

Tapping that special place in our hearts, election year politics or a viable plan, fans of space travel liked what he had to say.

“I’m prepared to invest the prestige of the presidency in communicating and building a nationwide movement in favor of space,” Gingrich said at a meeting of aerospace executives and community leaders after the rally.

“If we do it right, it’ll be wild and it will be just the most fun you’ve ever seen,” he said.

Flickr photo by Gage Skidmore