by Newt Gingrich
As I watched the SpaceX launch be postponed Wednesday due to weather, I could not help but remember President John F. Kennedy’s words at Rice University on Sept. 12, 1962, when he said:
“We choose to go to the Moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Callista and I were watching the C-SPAN broadcast of the NASA coverage, and we were both very excited. In fact, Callista said it was the most excited she had been about a space launch in years.
Earlier, we had watched President Trump and Melania and Vice President Pence and Karen as they toured the launch facility. President Trump is the most pro-space President since Kennedy, and Vice President Pence is the most pro-space Vice President in history.
They have already achieved a great deal with the creation of the US Space Force, which is moving steadily into a new world of American capabilities in space. They have also achieved an amazing amount by advocating for their Moon-Mars development project. They are working to return Americans to the Moon by 2024 – this time to stay – so we can move forward to develop Mars and ultimately explore the rest of our solar system. This will open the door to mining asteroids and other celestial bodies and profoundly expand our understanding of the universe.
The Trump doctrine of arousing and encouraging the private sector and entrepreneurs within a public-private partnership is having a real impact on developing commercial space companies and encouraging investments in large and small companies. With the re-establishment of the National Space Council, led by Vice President Pence, new energy and enthusiasm are growing for space investment and development.
All of this is reaching an exciting moment with the first American rocket to carry Americans to the International Space Station since 2011. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in USA Today, “From low earth orbit to our return to the moon, we are laying the foundation for humanity’s next great leap, human exploration of Mars.”
The weather interruption was a disappointment, but as Bridenstine made clear in the press briefing afterwards, they had a clear sense of mission boundaries and there was no pressure from President Trump or anyone else to deviate from the focus on crew safety. The amount of electricity in the atmosphere posed the threat that the rocket launch itself could trigger lightning and put the crew at risk.
This experience is a useful reminder that space is still challenging and at times dangerous. Sometimes we watch people on the International Space Station, and everything begins to seem routine. Virgin Galactic is planning to start launching tourists into suborbital flights as a routine business. We regularly launch an amazing number of satellites into orbit which dramatically enhance our lives, economy, and national security. And yet, as we were reminded Wednesday, putting humans into space remains a complicated process that requires a lot of expertise and professionalism.
This is the moment to remember that cheerful persistence is the key to America’s success in space.
We have lost rockets. We have lost satellites. Tragically, we have lost people. Yet, again and again, Americans return to inventing, discovering, and developing the future.
This commitment to progress – despite frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties – was held by the original settlers crossing a dangerous Atlantic Ocean in small ships. It was possessed by the pioneers following Daniel Boone and others into dangerous places with unknown threats. It was embodied by the wagon trains and after them the railroad builders. The inventors and developers of aviation had far more crashes and lost far more lives than everything we have experienced in space. And yet, at every instance, we have picked ourselves up and continued to build the future, despite the dangers and challenges.
American perseverance and daring to launch astronauts on a reusable private rocket have attracted attention from around the world. Callista caught some of this excitement in a video in which she noted that Pope Saint Paul VI had gone to the Papal Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, and watched the first landing on the Moon back in 1969.
As a tie between the past and the future, the Papal Observatory is an amazing place. It has roots in helping Pope Gregory XIII reform the calendar (the Gregorian Calendar which we still use today) in 1582. The modern observatory was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 “so that everyone might see clearly that the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible devotion.”
While based in Italy, the Papal Observatory also runs telescopes at the Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona. As part of understanding the worldwide impact of the renewed American space program, Callista got the director, Brother Guy Consolmagno, an American Jesuit, to share his good wishes and hopes for the future.
On Saturday, we will once again be watching NASA’s coverage and sending our best wishes and prayers to the brave Americans who are leading us into the future.
I hope you will watch, too.