Gingrich to Make "Visionary" Space Speech This Week

Gingrich to Make "Visionary" Space Speech This Week

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal yesterday that he plans to make a major speech about his plans for the space program this week when he visits Florida’s Space Coast.  The Florida Republican primary will be held January 31.

Gingrich said that he plans to make a series of speeches this week on “big solutions for a big country.”   In addition to space, he said he will speak on health, housing, economic growth, and Cuba and Latin Amercia.

In the interview, he referenced his 1984 book Window of Opportunity in which he devoted a chapter to the space program, adding that his speech this week would be “visionary” and “in the John F. Kennedy tradition rather than the current bureaucracy.”

The other Republican presidential candidates have not announced plans to make speeches specifically about the space program as part of their campaigns in Florida, although Florida Today reports that Rick Santorum is scheduled to appear in Brevard County on Saturday. Gingrich will be there on Wednesday.  Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are in that county.

The anniversaries of the three U.S. human spaceflight tragedies are close at hand — the January 27, 1967 Apollo fire that killed the three members of the first Apollo crew, and the two space shuttle tragedies (Challenger on January 28,1986 and Columbia on February 1, 2003) each of which claimed seven lives.  It is a time of reflection in the human spaceflight community, which any politican could see as an opportunity to honor those lost and the cause for which they gave their lives, so other candidates may also mention their plans for NASA.

Florida is a critical state in the presidential contest.    Then-candidate Barack Obama made a rousing pro-space speech in Florida on August 2, 2008 criticizing the George W. Bush Administration for setting visionary goals, but not providing the money to achieve them.   He said “we cannot cede our leadership in space…. We need a real vision.”    He asserted that he would reestablish a National Air and Space Council in the White House to develop that vision and  “Under my watch NASA will inspire the world once again.” 

Four years later, the President still has not reestablished the National Air and Space Council (or National Space Council, without the aeronautics component, as it was constituted most recently under the first Bush Administration from 1989-1993).  He did, however, propose a major paradigm shift for the human spaceflight program in February 2010 as part of his FY2011 budget request.    That plan — to cancel the Constellation program, turn the transportation of people to and from the International Space Station over to the private sector instead of NASA, and have NASA focus on technology development for eventual human trips to unspecified destinations beyond low Earth orbit — was not received enthusiastically and set off an intense debate in Congress.  Part of the criticism was that this major change was announced as part of a budget request and not in a dedicated speech.   The President returned to Florida on April 15, 2010 to explain his plan, but the speech was widely viewed as adding more confusion.  After a divisive two years, Congress and the White House seem to be in agreement on the future direction of the human spaceflight program today — essentially a combination of what each wanted — but whether it is sustainable within expected budgets remains to be seen.

Florida certainly will be a key state in the presidential race and the Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa Bay in August.  That could put the space program front and center in the debate, especially if Gingrich — a long-time supporter of the space program — wins the nomination.  

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