Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gingrich

Newt Gingrich Proposes Moon Colony
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Angela Copes and Steven Carlson

Open in Zeega.

Newt Gingrich: Moon President
Newt Gingrich: Moon President
Lunar Colony Proposal by Japan's Shimizu Corporation
Lunar Colony Proposal by Japan’s Shimizu Corporation

“Space, the final frontier.”  This familiar phrase from the popular Star Trek series was indicative of the times.  The space race, led by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 60’s has since dwindled down to now consist of the scientists and astronauts orbiting the planet in the International Space Station, adrift in space and out of the public mind.  That is, until 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich promised to have an American manned moon base by 2020. (adjecorp) His proposal has the support of NASA employees and the people of Florida’s Space Coast but the majority of the American people are left asking, “Why?” Why should the American people pay for a nostalgic, seemingly pointless, trip back to the moon?  Is this just a way for the U.S. to reassert its world power?  Or will it be a commercial endeavor?  The motivation seems unclear and maybe that’s the problem.

6774116369_d717f3449fOne of the biggest hurdles for this project is the fact that colonization of the moon was actually made illegal by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.  The intent was to eliminate the threat of strategic military maneuvers from the moon and space.  It doesn’t state that a moon base could not be established, it just would just have to be an international base, open to any and all countries wanting to utilize the space, which is where Newt’s dream becomes a problem.  (Wikipedia) Since he specified that the proposed base would, “be American,” it would be a direct violation of the treaty and a diplomatic nightmare. It would turn into a Cold War Two that would freeze up all tentative lines of diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia and this time around there would also be the growing powers of countries like China and the Middle East to deal with as well. (Harper) One man’s seemingly harmless, idealistic dream could inadvertently send the world spiraling into World War III…Unless, of course, we could change the, “American,” to an, “International,” moon colony.  Previously, colonization was almost a race between European nations to see who could create the most new countries in the shortest amount of time.  Whether it was for commercial reasons, religious freedom, or just the thrill of exploration, the competition of other countries was motivation enough to get the ships moving before all the good territory was claimed.  There were no international laws to govern the practices between countries and no limit to the quantity or size of territories they could take, the only constraints set by the land itself. Needless to say, it is a very different world, with very different rules, and very different countries setting those rules.

First Sunrise of the Season at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
First Sunrise of the Season at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

The only way this plan could work would be for the world powers to come together and collaborate.  Not only would the governments have to make an agreement but the architects would have to as well.  An international design committee would be able to design a base that was comfortable for any and all personnel stationed on the moon.  The architecture of an international moon base would have to be both functional and hospitable and accommodate people from many different backgrounds.  It would also be possible to have different moon bases for different countries all working jointly on the neutral lunar surface.  A good model for this is the continent of Antarctica. It’s a neutral space broken into 8 territories, used purely for scientific research and environmental data collection. (Wikipedia) If it is possible to cooperate in the most desolate place on this planet, the world powers should be able to do so on the even more desolate moon.

Halley VI Reserach Station Antarctica
Halley VI Reserach Station Antarctica (Hugh Broughton Architects)

If the countries of the world were actually able to collaborate and design a base, another hurdle to overcome would be the cost of building, transporting, and keeping the base supplied.  Unlike the earlier colonization, the architects would not be able to design on site.  The design would have to be figured out on Earth, tested, and then the materials transported via rocket to the site on the moon. (NASA) When England decided to colonize America, they did not have to prefabricate their buildings in the U.K. and carry them across the Atlantic on their ships.  The American wilderness supplied the timber for the settlers to build homes and defenses as well as food and water supply once they were settled.

Researchers Playing Pool in Halley VI
Researchers Playing Pool in Halley VI (Hugh Broughton Architects)

The moon on the other hand has virtually no resources available for in situ building.  Stacking up moon rocks would work on Earth…but humans will need airtight shelters for climate control and most importantly, breathable air.  However, scientists have discovered water on the moon and lunar probes have been conducting studies to find ways to sustain a colony with the elements already on the moon. (NASA) This would drop costs and make the project more plausible.  On the bright side, there are those in the science community who are optimistic that a moon colony is not as sci-fi as it sounds.  Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, thinks that the moon colony could be financed by the government if a well-organized government agency starts things up. He points out that most of the famous explorations into new territory were funded by governments (Lewis and Clark, Colombus). (Martin Bashir) Governments might be more willing to fund a base on the moon if a commercial center was added into the design plan. (Frum) The various minerals on the moon leads to mining as a viable option but that plan could easily lead to degradation of the moon environment.

A lunar colony as imagined by American engineers, September 26th, 1969
A lunar colony as imagined by American engineers, September 26th, 1969

Newt’s dream might seem like something out of science fiction but it’s not the futuristic design technology that’s the problem.  If a moon colony were to be seriously considered, it would have to be designed in a way that would be able to house scientists from any country to and create a unified comfortable environment.  The main challenge would be to figure out how to design a base for the least amount of money, with the safest material, and easiest transport and assembly.  If the base is made international, the costs would be shared among participating countries and made more affordable.  A moon colony is entirely possible, it just needs the right reason to get the ball rolling.








Images (Above)

Starin, Liz. Newt Gingrich on the Moon. Photograph. CNN Money. January 30, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013.

Artist’s Rendering of 1969 Lunar Colony Proposal by American engineers, Sep. 26, 1969. Illustration. ABC News. January 26, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013.

Billiards Game inside Halley VI. Photograph. Interior Design Magazine. June 21, 2013. Accessed September 14, 2013.

First Sunrise of Season Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Photograph. The Atlantic. July 15, 2013. Accessed September 14, 2013.

Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Newt Gingrich. Photograph. Notions Capital: WordPress. May 3, 2012. Accessed September 14, 2013.

A Proposed Lunar Base Made of Hexagonal Structures. Photograph. Universe Today. June 9, 2010. Accessed September 14, 2013.

Sitting on Hydraulic Stilts: Halley VI. Photograph. Design Boom. 2012. Accessed September 14, 2013.

Theoretical Moon Mining Establishment. Photograph. Interstellar Marines. 2012. Accessed September 14, 2013.


Chang, Kenneth. “For a Moon Colony, Technology Is the Easy Part.” The New York Times (New York City), January 27, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013.

The main problem facing another manned moon mission seems to be the economic factors.  Why should the government give all this money to NASA for these projects?  What do the American people get from this?  People are reluctant to give up their tax dollars for something that seems so unnecessary.  Political leaders are reluctant to attach themselves to such an unpopular project.  Revamping our existing space technology would be a cakewalk compared to getting the funding and support for moon base proposals.

Frum, David. “A Moon Colony Is a Waste of Money.” CNN Opinion. Last modified January 30, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013.

David Frum makes the point in his opinion piece that today all of the scientific data collection is done by the robotic unmanned space missions and that adding humans to the equation adds cost and risk.  He also states that the Space Race of the Cold War era was primarily a political display and completely nonscientific.  So what is the point of putting people back on the moon?  Do we want to spend billions of dollars on a potentially volatile political statement or will it truly be a scientific outpost for resource mining and further space exploration and development?

Encyclopedia Entries

Wikipedia Contributors. “Antarctica.” In Wikipedia. Accessed September 14, 2013.

Laws governing the use and occupation of Antarctica are very similar to those that govern the use and ownership of the moon. Countries like the UK, Australia, Argentina, and Norway all have research rights to specific zones of the continent; but commercial and military exploitation is outlawed, and no country actually owns their territory and the whole continent is politically neutral. The manner and methods of Antarctic colonization are greatly similar to lunar colonization proposals, and simimilar constraints are present in both environments. Antarctica is an important model that could and should be considered if a serious lunar colony proposal ever comes about.

Wikipedia contributors. “Colonization of the Moon.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed September 8, 2013.

The idea of a moon colony has existed before man even touched the surface.  In more recent history, other countries (namely Russia and Japan) have proposed their own moon bases in a time frame similar to Newt’s proposal.  The practicalities of different modes of structural systems, resource collection, economic development, and transportation have been debated on by scientists and common space enthusiasts alike.  The main concern through all of these conversations though is how to make the moon safe and sustainable for extended and theoretically permanent stays.

Wikipedia contributors. “Vision for Space Exploration.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed September 8, 2013.

The Vision for Space Exploration was a plan proposed by President George W. Bush in 2004 to boost the public confidence and interest in space exploration after the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster.  The proposal for a moon base is the first step towards further space exploration and scientific research.  The economic advantages and disadvantages are both discussed in the entry, which appear to be the main areas of focus for the government officials involved in the process.  It seems as if Newt Gingrich was not the only one with such high flying goals.

Scholarly Articles

Harper, Jacob M. “Technology, Politics, and the New Space Race: The Legality and Desirability of Bush’s National Space Policy under the Public and Customary International Laws of Space.” Chicago Journal of International Law 8, no. 1 (Summer 2007): 681-99. Accessed September 8, 2013.

President George W. Bush wanted to ensure the safety of the United States from the War on Terror in every way possible, including from space.  Unfortunately, setting up a defensive system in international space tends to set other countries on edge.  Russia and China in particular have started forming their own defenses.  If America isn’t more diplomatic in the way it proceeds, the country could end up with space warfare.  The stuff of science fiction could very plausibly become a reality.  How can the U.S. expand its space explorations without violating Space Treaties?

Morales, Lester. “Return to the Moon: NASA’s LCROSS and LRO Missions.” Lecture, 2012. NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS). Last modified January 13, 2013. Accessed September 8, 2013.

Ultimately, NASA wants an outpost on the moon as a base camp for exploring Mars and beyond.  Ideal site placement depends on accessibility, landing safety, power, and the nearby resources.  In order for a base to be sustainable, it would have to live off the land and minimize shipping interactions with the Earth.  Before a more permanent move is made, NASA needs to send analytical satellites to gather information about the resources (most importantly water) available in potential sites.  Similar to early continental colonization, you have to send your worker bees out to scout the area before you start sending the hordes of civilians.

Orthographic Documentation

Hugh Broughton Architects. “Hugh Broughton Architects – Extreme Projects.” Accessed September 14, 2013.

This webpage documents the extreme-condition projects of British firm Hugh Broughton Architects. The builder of the new Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, Hugh Broughton has completed several other innovative Antarctic research stations. These projects, their design processes, and their constraints could be integral case studies for a future lunar colonization project. The stations also convey the necessity of good design as a matter of the researchers’ mental, physical, and social health. Thoughtful design (with special consideration of leisure space and overall quality of life) will be a very important element in lunar architecture if or when it comes about.

Mendell, W. W., ed. Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century. Houston: Lunar and Planetary Institute, 1985. Accessed September 8, 2013.

Module-based lunar outpost
Module-based lunar outpost

This source provides a sampling of lunar colonization proposals from the peak years of the space race (from the 1960s through the 1980s). It provides many conceptual drawings, formal investigations, and also scientific diagrams; all of which support a complete study of plausible lunar habitation. Some schemes are more plausible than others, but all demonstrate that America’s desire to build on the moon is not by any means a new concept.

SHIFTboston. “Moon Capital Competition 2010.” Last modified October 21, 2010. Accessed September 8, 2013.

Theoretical proposal for a lunar Olympic stadium
Theoretical proposal for a lunar Olympic stadium

These orthographic documents, here in the form of boards submitted to a competition to build a moon capital, provide a taste of what today’s design talent and technological prowess could bring to a moon colony. They’ve even dreamed up a stadium for Moon Olympics.  This project, undergone two years before Gingrich’s proposals in 2012, reinforces the fact that Gingrich is not the only one who is still interested in lunar colonization.

Video and Audio

Amos, Jonathan, and Hugh Broughton. “Halley VI: The British Antarctic Survey’s New Base.” BBC World News Online. Video file, 03:38. February 5, 2013. Accessed September 14, 2013.

This BBC News clip commemorates the opening of a new, British Antarctic research station. This interview with the project architect documents how key obstacles to the design were overcome; given the harsh climate and lack of building materials, the modular facility was prefabricated in Europe and shipped to Antarctica. Hydraulic legs compensate for shifting and settling of the frozen surface, and the whole production can be moved with relative ease, using bulldozers and snowmobiles. A big piece of the design focused on improving the quality of life for the researchers; the central largest pod is dedicated to recreation, exercise, and socializing. The key value of this source, is that it demonstrates the ability of thoughtful design and prefabrication to overcome hostile building environments, and is an precedent for moon construction.

Martin Bashir. “Gingrich Promises to Build a US Moon Colony.” MSNBC. First broadcast January 26, 2012. Performed by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Accessed September 8, 2013.

In this clip from MSNBC’s Martin Bashir Program, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an Astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, points out that the naysayers of Gingrich’s plan are not the engineers, but those who know what it would take economically and politically. Tyson points out that governments, not private enterprise, typically pay for exploration into unknown waters (Lewis and Clark, Colombus, the Apollo Program), because the risks and costs are too high for the private sector to engage. Tyson proposes that Gingrich’s plan to get to the moon on private dollars is a dream and that instead he should focus on designing a capable and well-funded government agency to get the ball rolling. Tyson provides a reasoned scientific view of Newt’s Proposal, an while acknowledging the weaknesses in his plan, he applauds his confidence and submits to Bashir the belief that space exploration will percolate through society, breed a new generation of enthusiastic mathematicians and scientists, which will in turn boost our economy in the future.

“Newt Gingrich Promises US Moon Colony by 2020.” Youtube. Video file, 03:31. Posted by Adjecorp, January 28, 2012. Accessed September 8, 2013.

This source is a recording of a segment of the speech which launched the controversy surrounding candidate Gingrich’s moon colony proposal. It would not be a stretch to say that he is pandering to his audience (Florida was deeply affected and is still feeling the aftereffects of President Obama’s drastic cuts to the National Space Program), and both his tone heard and body language seen in this clip support that observation.


Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>