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Gingrich’s space vision sounds a lot like Obama’s

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NASA The Space shuttle Discovery leaves the International Space Station. Yesterday, Newt Gingrich elicited a few guffaws over his proposal to colonize the moon and dole out $1.8 billion in space-prize money to private companies. Wild! Though, as Charlie Homans points out in Foreign Policy today, Gingrich’s vision for private-sector space exploration isn’t all that fundamentally different from Barack Obama’s current plan. Here’s an earlier piece Homans wrote for the Washington Monthly on the White House’s proposal to have NASA rely more heavily on private contractors for spaceflight:

The best reason to think this idea is not completely crazy is because something like it has happened before. In 1925, when air travel was still in its infancy, Congress passed the Kelly Airmail Act, which allowed commercial airlines to bid on U.S. Postal Service delivery contracts. The government backing allowed the fledgling airlines to expand their routes and service offerings; demand for cargo service increased, and, as flight got cheaper and came to be viewed as a normal and non-death-defying means of getting places, passenger service increased, too. Through a combination of private-sector ingenuity and government seed money, a new industry was willed into existence.

Of course, terrestrial air travel isn’t quite like spaceflight, since it’s easy enough to dream up reasons why we’d want to fly from New York to London, but somewhat less obvious why we’d want to set up a moon base. (Mining for rare metals, perhaps?) Anyway, read Homans’ longer piece. Ultimately, he’s skeptical that private spaceflight can adequately replace NASA — which, given that we seem to have entered a new age of austerity, raises the question of whether manned space exploration is worth doing at all.

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