Is moon base really the 'weirdest' Newt Gingrich idea? Maybe not.

Newt Gingrich once wrote a bill that proposed to clarify when a moon base could apply for statehood. He admitted the bill was a bit odd Wednesday. But it might now prove to be a stroke of brilliance. 

Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks during a Space Coast meeting in Cocoa, Fla., Wednesday.

Newt Gingrich wants to establish a colony on the moon, in case you haven’t heard. At a campaign stop on Florida’s Space Coast Thursday he promised that the US would have a permanent lunar base by the end of his second term in the Oval Office.

He talked about it as if it would be a lunar Plymouth, mankind’s brave foray into a lunar unknown, though he himself did not make that direct comparison. He even put out some ideas as to how the place should be governed.

When Moon Base Gingrich holds enough people, it should apply for statehood, he said.

“I think the moon primary would come late in the [campaign] season,” he said, smiling. This was either hubristic or charmingly self-aware, depending on how one views the prospect of the former speaker in the White House.

As Gingrich noted Wednesday, he’s outlined his ideas for space self-government before. As a young member of Congress in 1981, he introduced a bill he now refers to as the Northwest Ordinance for Space, but back then went by the more prosaic name of National Aeronautics and Space Policy Act of 1981.

BuzzFeed has dug up an actual copy of this legislation from the Library of Congress, and it’s pretty interesting. Much of it consists of an order to NASA to set 30-year goals for everything from a new “operational world information system” (Newt invented the Internet!) to manned Mars and moon missions.

Title IV covers “Government of Space Territories.” It begins in a sweeping manner: all persons residing in any US space community (which could be anywhere from the moon to Jupiter, we guess) “shall be entitled to the protection of the Constitution of the United States.”

Wow – this means that any terror suspect caught at a US moon base couldn’t be shipped to Guantánamo, right? Also, any baby born to an illegal US moon base immigrant would be a US citizen, raising the possibility of moon birth tourism.

The second section of Title IV says that when a US space colony holds 20,000 people, it will be able to hold a convention to establish a constitution and form of self-government for itself. Kind of like Philadelphia in 1787, only with external oxygen supplies.

Title IV’s third section establishes that whenever said space colony holds the same number of people as the least populous US state (right now, that’s Wyoming, at 544,270) it will be admitted as a US state “on an equal footing with the original states.”

That raises a question – if you’re the senator from the moon, would you get in trouble with constituents for not traveling home often enough to take the pulse of Tranquility Base? Because you probably couldn’t do that Friday-to-Monday.

Anyway, Gingrich himself kind of poked fun at himself for all this, saying that he’s old enough to have read “Missiles & Rockets Magazine” as a kid, and that the whole thing might be the “weirdest” policy idea he’s ever proposed.

But let’s be honest – he’s running a Florida primary, and Florida’s Space Coast right now suffers from high unemployment. Gingrich might be crazy like a space fox here. 

Slate’s Dave Weigel wrote about Gingrich’s speech under the head “Not Actually Crazy.”

“It’s an idea that makes the New York/Washington-Alinskyite media guffaw. It also happens to be a pander to local voters that no one will try to make,” wrote Mr. Weigel.

After all, in the late 1960s, NASA drew up plans to establish a moon base by 1980 and send men to Mars by 1983. But these were cancelled by then-President Richard Nixon, notes in an outline of presidential visions for space exploration.

Nixon was worried that the government spending was too high – and NASA was a convenient target.

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