Gingrich’s billion-dollar space prizes

It should be no surprise to anyone that former House speaker Newt Gingrich is a big fan of prizes for a variety of applications, including space. In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Gingrich uses prizes as a way to answer a question posed by the paper: “How would you spend $10 billion of American resources (either directly or through regulation) over the next four years to help improve the state of the world?”

Gingrich allocated the $10 billion in seven prizes, three for $2 billion each and the other four for $1 billion each. Two of the $1-billion prizes are focused on space: “A reusable system that could get people into space at 10% of the current cost, thus enabling genuine space tourism and launching an age of exploration” and “The first privately financed permanent lunar base”. The question is, though, whether either would be claimed in four years (as the Journal stipulated in its original question.)

5 comments to Gingrich’s billion-dollar space prizes

  • MarkWhittington

    Gingrich was, at one time, pushing the lunar base prize as a five billion dollar prize. One wonders why he choose to lower the pay out.

  • jblow

    Because the theoretical exercise given to Gingrich by the Journal only gave him $10 billion to play with… duh?

    Try reading before posting next time.

  • MarkWhittington

    A five billion dollar moon base prize still gives him another five billion to play with for other things. If Gingrich arbitrarily reduced the payout just to fit an arbitrary parameter, what does that say about the idea to start with?

  • Habitat Hermit

    It doesn’t have to be claimed within four years if put into some sort of escrow. One possibility among many would be to set it up as a investment fund similar to federal or state pension funds and with equivalent protection.

    A few billions should accumulate nice returns during a decade or two or however long it takes for someone to win the prize(s). The prizes themselves could stay fixed except for inflation adjustments and thus at some point it should be possible to pay back the initial funding (adjusted for inflation and maybe with an additional sum equal to the “lost” taxation too since the prizes are tax free).

    The fund would still accrue capital after such a point (unless the prizes are won surprisingly fast) and this could be set aside for future prizes (possibly decided upon together with the initial investor be it the US government or somebody else).

    As always the devil would be in the details.

    Switching topic slightly I’m surprised at these items:

    “6) A method for reusing nuclear waste to make Yucca Mountain, Nevada unnecessary as a repository.

    7) A method of learning math and science that kids like, and that enables us to leapfrog India and China by breaking out of our unionized, bureaucratic curriculum. This would enable us to replace “No Child Left Behind” with a more effective education model that could be called “Every American Gets Ahead.””

    Item 6 has been solved for what seems like ages, there’s no Yucca Mountain in France and they don’t even use the real solution! Hell the whole premise of Yucca Mountain is false at its face: there absolutely no need for storage facilities meant to last for tens of thousands of years or more. Someone should introduce the US Congress (who have bungled it all with good help from so-called “greens”) to the concept of half-life and what it entails (short half-life = very radioactive = very short “lifespan” for the element while long half-life = not particularly radioactive = very long “lifespan” for the element, add the fact that elements with high half-life become elements with less high half-life and so on down and one would think it should be rather obvious). Not that it ought to be a concern in the first place: reprocess ad infinitum.

    Item 7 is largely cultural and split between students and teachers. There’s no reason to think the general difference between Asians and everybody else can be explained purely by genetics (anyone who thinks otherwise can go argue it with Japanese delinquents ^_^). On the other hand there’s no reason to think all teachers are equally good (of course it would be extremely helpful to pin the details down so poorly performing teachers could improve but some of those details probably can’t be).

    Maybe technology can improve on number 7 but lots of people have been and are thinking about and implementing approaches as it already is a very lucrative business (all the way from cram-school booms to “false lesson” trickery/methodology to what would amount to early versions of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”).

    2 billions saved ^_^ (I’d use one for paying down loans and one for general tax breaks or maybe for abolishing the FUTA in the US since you have that kind of pure nonsense over there as well).

  • Bill Caplan

    Considering that Congress clearly will not fund prizes (hasn’t DARPA also given up on them?), this is a non-starter. Space prizes need private funding in order to be viable, because the legislature clearly doesn’t like them.

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