On Wednesday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich vowed that if he’s elected, America will have a permanent base on the moon by his second term.
But for members of Texas' Houston-based aerospace industry, Gingrich's childhood dream — one he hopes to make a reality by 2020 — is a plan unlikely to take off, especially given the country's economic concerns, and the fact that NASA ended its manned space flight program in July.
“If all mankind put their effort into [colonization], then sure, but not in today's economy and with everything that we've got going on,” said Wallace Fowler, director of the Texas Space Grant Consortium, adding, “I’d be surprised if we had 13 people on the moon by 2020, visiting the moon for two days each and then coming back home."
The decision to end NASA's space flight program — while sad to generations of Americans who grew up watching men and women blast off into space, didn't necessarily spell the end of space exploration, said Paula Korn, director of communications at Boeing's Houston-based Space Exploration division. It just means there's a higher financial and political threshold to meet.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission's most recent data, there are more than 4,000 aerospace engineers in the Gulf Coast region. Both Boeing and NASA are continuing work on the $100 billion International Space Station, including prototyping and exploration beyond the station. Korn says Texas-based aerospace engineers are already working on new rockets to take flights — possibly manned — to asteroids or even Mars.
Moon colonization could allow for deeper space exploration, because shuttles could be launched from the lower gravity of the moon. But some argue it would more cost effective to build a new space station rather than dealing with the moon's inhospitable surface.
“You can't budget [space travel] year by year,” Korn said. “You can't send a mission to Mars and then say, ‘Let's not.’ Going into space is very capital intensive; it's a time and money investment.”