Opinion: Is returning to the moon really such a crackpot idea?

newt gingrich is the moonNewt Gingrich has always been a polarizing figure in politics, and he’s embracing that reputation to a tee during his run for the Republican nomination. Yet amidst all of the crazy he has spewed thus far in his campaign, there is one gem to be found in the dangerous rough of Gingrich’s ideas – the moon.

Now, this should not be considered an endorsement for Gingrich, nor should it even be thought of as an agreement with the specifics of his moon colonization plan (part of which is illegal – you can’t claim the moon). However, space travel and exploration has fallen by the wayside given our current economic climate, and reinstating the drive to explore our galaxy is far from Gingrich’s worst idea, yet one he’s taken a significant beating for.

But at the core of this idea, I came away with one thought. That really, Americans have the right to be frustrated or at the least saddened by the great decline in funding to further investigate the moon and our galaxy. And that we shouldn’t balk and call it crazy.

Tech evangelists are space evangelists

The tech elite are on Gingrich’s side, at least in principle. A number of very rich, drunk-off-startups CEOs and venture capitalists are interested in investing in space. Even Silicon Valley kingpin Peter Thiel has complained about the avenues invention has taken. “I don’t consider this to be a technological breakthrough,” he told the New Yorker regarding the iPhone. “Compare this with the Apollo space program.”

Thiel believes that Web 2.0 and the technology revolution we’ve seen emerge over the last decade has failed to produce enough jobs or real change. And that’s saying something coming from someone who is lining his pockets thanks to the Facebook IPO. The site for his VC firm, Founders Fund, reads “What happened to the future? We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

It’s true. Think about the billions of dollars that have been spent during tech startups’ fundraising rounds on ideas that for some reason seemed brilliant but were shallow and meaningless, or the amount of money big tech companies spend on lobbying, even as they wax philosophically on the need to keep exploring and pushing boundaries. It’s disheartening to say the least. Maybe it’s time VC culture and big names in the industry started thinking a little bigger picture.

Where’s the money?

Thiel’s very disillusionment with the industry means it’s no surprise that Founders Fund has invested in SpaceX, a company that is trying to decrease the cost of going to space. “If it succeeds, there should at last be plenty to do in space, from telecommunications to power generation to high-precision microgravity fabrication – if investors with cash are ready to fund that innovation.”

SpaceX isn’t just a pipe dream either. The company has a contract with NASA and the U.S. military, along with other non-American government agencies, and two years ago , it became the first privately-held company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. SpaceX is planning a mission to Mars in 2018.

Virgin’s Richard Branson has also notoriously been investing in space travel. He began his Virgin Galactic airline in 2010, back when aligning the nation’s space exploration efforts with commercial transportation was seeming more possible. Since then NASA’s funding has been considerably cut, but Virgin Galactic’s still aims to offer orbital human spaceflights to paying customers in the future.

Original Silicon Valley pirate Paul Allen has recently made his own mark on the market. His new company Stratolaunch Systems wants to break into the private space flight industry and hopes to offer flights within five years.

The future is not just the Web

This isn’t a passing trend or an unexplainable anomaly: the people who have built and invested in technology that has already changed our lives are dead set on exploring space. To some of them it’s like this great big opportunity staring us in the face that we’re just allowing to sit there while we invest in Pinterest clones and applications that help you find applications.

And it looks like rich tech insiders aren’t the only ones getting antsy. NASA says that while human space exploration for its organization has been shuttered, it has had a huge influx of applicants. It’s the second highest number of applications NASA has ever seen – the highest was in 1978, during the collective enthusiasm left over from the space race. If you need a few reasons why NASA wants to explore the moon, here are more than 100 of them.

Clearly, there’s an undying desire to journey to the final frontier. Unfortunately, the billions of dollars a year to fund it simply can’t be found in this economy. That’s where the private sector will need to step up to the plate, if we want to make it back to the moon by 2020. There are, of course, public-sector suggestions for redirecting money to space exploration – namely, taking federal dollars being spent on campaigns in the Middle East and pulling troops out of what some believe are now safe and stable climates.

While Gingrich’s plan to take the moon is flawed (in some cases, impossible) when it comes to budget, technology, and perhaps most of all ethics, I don’t want to lump moon exploration in with crazy ideas too quickly. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

From electron microscopes to X-rays, high-tech tools expose low-tech art forgery

At the Indianapolis Museum of Art, conservation scientist Greg Smith and Glennis Rayermann, then a Ph.D student, used high-tech equipment to determine if a painting was made by master forger Icilio Federico Joni.
Photography

How to photograph the moon

The night sky is among the most inspiring scenes to capture -- but it's also one of the most difficult. Here's how to photograph the moon, whether you just want to capture a phase of the moon or a lunar event.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX Starlink: Here’s everything you need to know

SpaceX Starlink is the name of Elon Musk's ambitious plan to blanket the globe with high speed broadband internet via a network of satellites. Here's everything you need to know about it
Emerging Tech

Looking for a good read? Here are the best, most eye-opening books about tech

Sometimes it's sensible to put down the gadgets and pick up a good old-fashioned book -- to read about the latest gadgets, of course. Here are the tech books you need to check out.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Wearables

NYPD pulls thousands of body cams after one explodes

The NYPD has recalled thousands of body cameras after one of them exploded during an officer's shift on Sunday, October 21. No one was injured in the incident, which is thought to have been caused by the device's battery.
Emerging Tech

There’s finally a way to trace ‘untraceable’ 3D printed guns

To help track 3D-printed guns, researchers have developed a new algorithm which is able to identify which 3D printer was used to print an object, based on its unique fingerprint. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

These solar-powered water purifiers can produce 30,000 gallons of water per day

Problems with contaminated water? Quench Water & Solar's water purifiers can purify up to 30,000 gallons of fresh water per day and it's offering the technology to whoever wants it.
Smart Home

Silo A.I. vacuum storage system tells you when your leftovers are going bad

"Alexa, is the chicken still OK to eat?" Newly launched on Kickstarter, Silo is a neat vacuum storage container that will extend your food's shelf life -- and add in a useful dose of A.I., too.
Emerging Tech

Watch the moment NASA releases 450,000 gallons of water onto a launch pad

NASA's next-generation rocket will be one of the most powerful ever made and at launch will generate a colossal amount of heat and noise. Here's what it's going to do to control all that energy ...
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to give free rides in first Boring Company tunnel in December

Members of the public will soon get to find out if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at reducing traffic congestion or little more than a fancy theme park ride, with free rides being offered from December.
Emerging Tech

World’s first drone-equipped motorcycle features a special space for the Spark

If your sidecar is missing a drone or your drone a sidecar, then check out how the two machines have been brought together in this unique design from Ural Motorcycles. Only 40 have been made, though that may turn out to be enough.
Product Review

North’s Focals aim to keep you ‘heads-up’ with smartglasses

North, formerly known as Thalmic Labs, has unveiled a new product alongside the brand-name change. Focals is a pair of smartglasses, like Google Glass, that attempts to help keep you heads-up.
Emerging Tech

Meet the $1.5m Xprize winner that makes artificial clouds in shipping containers

Could the solution to a lack of clean drinking water be an artificial cloud inside a shipping container? It sounds crazy, but it just won the prestigious $1.5 million Water Abundance XPrize.