I listened to the live webcast Saturday afternoon of the space session of Newt Gingrich’s “Solutions Day” event, an hour-long discussion led by former congressman Bob Walker. (The video of the event is supposed to be available soon, according to the Solutions Day web site.) The event was split into three 20-minute segments: an introductory speech by Walker, which covered the basics of civil, commercial, and military space; a question-and-answer session with the audience; and a discussion of “solutions”, which was similar to the Q&A session.
For those expecting some novel, incisive discussion about ways to improve America’s access to and utilization of space, the event was underwhelming. The discussion was limited primarily to the people who were physically at the event in Georgia (one question at the very end came via the Internet), and they were general space enthusiasts who asked questions about space elevators and “tritium mining” (apparently a reference to helium-3) on the Moon. A few highlights:
- “I personally believe the Chinese are embarked upon on a very ambitious lunar program, and within a handful of years we will have someone from China waving back at us from the Moon,” he said in his introductory remarks. (As some may recall, Walker said back in 2003 that China would land humans on the Moon within a decade and even cited a conversation with a “Japanese parliamentarian” who argued such a feat would be accomplished in three to four years, so weight that assessment accordingly.)
- If and when China does land humans on the Moon, Walker argues that it would pose a security threat to the US: “There are some military planners who would be worried about placing some Chinese assets on the Moon,” he said in response to a question, “in that it would make some of our satellite systems more vulnerable… So, yes, there are some potential military concerns about a permanent Chinese presence on the Moon.”
- Regarding the Vision for Space Exploration, Walker was concerned about the lack of appropriate funding for it. “It’s a visionary program, but the problem so far has been insufficient resources to do the job as necessary,” he said, which may require the Vision’s timelines to be stretched.
- Walker was also indirectly critical of one aspect of the Vision’s implementation, the development of the Ares 1. “There are a lot of people in Washington right now beginning to ask the question of why is NASA building its own new rocket to go to low Earth orbit when, in fact, there are military vehicles available, called EELVs, that could lift similar weight into low Earth orbit and might even be able to be modified in the future to go on to the Moon.”
- Walker did address prizes briefly, suggesting that a $20-billion Mars prize might be a better approach if you wanted to bypass the Moon, although he suggested that approach was undesirable since the Moon would be a good testing ground for the technology needed for future Mars missions. “If you want to do ‘Direct Mars’ [apparently referring to Zubrin's Mars Direct], you probably don’t do it as a government program. If you want to do Direct Mars, you offer a $20-billion prize for the first humans who set foot on Mars” that allow people to take much greater risks than would be permitted in a NASA-led effort.