Newt Gingrich: Moon Base Visionary or Total Space Cadet?

While Newt Gingrich may have lost the Florida primary, he has been quick to inspire the popular imagination. But just how out there is his idea for a permanent American moon base?

What's the Latest Development?

Campaigning in Florida, the state most invested in space exploration, Newt Gingrich promised a permanent moon base within eight years of his election to the presidency. But would it be possible? An independent analysis made in 2009 by a foreign policy think tank said such a base would cost $35 billion to establish and $7.5 billion to maintain annually. That kind of money, without an industrial or national security justification, will be impossible to come by, says Roger Launius, space historian at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

What's the Big Idea?

What would building a moon base entail? Since the moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protect humans from radioactive cosmic rays, underground housing is probably the best way to shelter would-be colonists. Technology to store and prepare food would need to be developed, as well as a way of recycling waste. And the benefits? The only raw material that we might mine from the lunar soil is helium-3, a rare isotope that could be used in fusion reactors. But to date, we have yet to construct such a reactor back on planet Earth.

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