Decades of living fat off the public dole and donations to fake campaigns may have dulled the business sense of Newt Gingrich. Or maybe the reportedly henpecked husband is just desperate:
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.”
As long as Gingrich is competing for a primary slice of crazy pie he’s not likely to remind prospective Republican voters that he praised Obama’s NASA budget. But that prior endorsement and his latest comments, taken together, suggest the former House Speaker may be laboring under a fundamental misunderstanding.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver explained to me that three-quarters or more of every agency dollar has always gone to private contractors. The big change in the works isn’t how much NASA spends in the private sector, it’s how those private firms are paid. Initially, aerospace firms couldn’t afford the risk of developing entirely new vehicles costing billions on pure speculation. But now, thanks to decades of development by NASA and aerospace manufacturers under a cost-plus partnership, the ability to manufacture spacecraft and sell them for a fixed price low enough to greatly benefit the US space program, and maybe low enough to attract privately funded ventures, is becoming a reality.
The current NASA budget battle is not about private vs public, it’s cost-plus vs flat fee — some traditional companies and their political allies don’t want to give the old cost-plus system up. But NASA is far and away the largest and most reliable customer regardless. Killing NASA would have a worse effect on private space exploration companies than eliminating the US military would have on the domestic aviation industry. If Gingrich thinks otherwise he either does not understand any of this or does not care. Based on his recent zany antics, it’s most likely a heaping helping of both.