Newt Gingrich’s up and down campaign to be the GOP presidential nominee is likely to flame out today in Florida. After unexpectedly dominating the South Carolina primary, his political fortunes have wilted under an unrelenting barrage of attacks. In particular, Gingrich’s recent promise to build a permanent American base on the moon provoked many savage gibes. But a moon base is more than, say, an appealing exile for obnoxious politicians. Gingrich’s proposal is roughly aligned with what President Obama and many experts have been advocating for years.
There is little public appetite to relive NASA’s glory days through more quick jaunts to the moon. But people are always interested in profit, and what Gingrich and others are proposing is strictly business. An army of astronauts and robots would descend on the moon to mine resources that are not readily available on Earth. Once government programs demonstrate that doing so is possible and perhaps profitable, private industry will have strong incentive to take over, freeing NASA to continue pushing the envelope in other areas of space.