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Former Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested not just a trip to the moon but a real base on the moon this week. “Crazy” is how most of the media labeled it.

The Speaker said his critics do not understand science or technology or entrepreneurship. He has pointed out that when the transcontinental railroad was planned, we did not have all the technology that was needed. Is Newt right? Yes, I think.

I was in elementary school when the Russians sent up Sputnik. America freaked out, but instead of just talking, we turned on a dime and changed what we did. Suddenly the “space race” was on, and everything focused on it. My mother even purchased a “Sputnik lamp” for our foyer, and that talk was all about rocket ships and space. Toy stores began to make rockets, and every kid wanted to be able to send one off.

Toys aside, it was the school systems that decided to change. Gone were the “Alice and Jerry” books and even “Spot and Sally” were having their last run. In came a science and math program that moved elementary students to a place where they would be ready with the skills that were needed for us to “win this race.”

Math books were designated to the annual paper sale and were quickly replaced by small modules put out by the Cleveland, Ohio, Board of Education.

These modules taught things like the “rule of order” in fourth grade and the binary number system in fifth.. Every kid in elementary school was excited that we were learning the “language” of computers. A rather small black and white television was brought out to our elementary school stage so we could watch the Mercury astronauts take off. Class would stop, and we would all watch the rocket lift off from Cape Canaveral. Kids began to think about technology and what might be possible. Landing on the moon was in the very distant future. It was simply enough to be in space and compete with the Russians.

The space program fostered a ton of innovation and creativity from which we all benefit. I am on my way to one of the world’s most remote places in the new country of South Sudan. Critics of the space program think we should save the potential space money for education and infrastructure jobs or to help with the world’s poverty. However, one of the single innovations that have helped with poverty in the Third World is the mobile cell/satellite phone. People can get money put on cell phones. Women can protect themselves with cell phones, and remote areas can be connected by satellite phones. The cell/satellite phone is a direct result of research done for the space program.

Velcro, a material that is used for children’s games, as well as to fasten computer cords, was a direct result of the space program. There are many other developments as well. NASA was able to contribute and develop technology in many fields, including Teflon, cooling systems for people with burns and other medical injuries, a lightweight breathing system used by firefighters, an artificial heart based on the fuel pump used in rockets, GPS navigation, cordless tools and water purification from rainwater.

Other innovations and inventions that have been a byproduct of the space program include digital hearing aids, cancer screening improvements, fire resistant aircraft seats, LASIK eye surgery, smoke detectors and more. The list is long and extends to all reaches of our society.

Was Newt Gingrich really trying to placate the voters in Florida, or is he on to something about what can really bring America jobs and innovation? I think he is a creative thinker and, even if he does not get the nomination our nation needs, the Newt Gingriches of the world are thinkers.

I am a Barack Obama person, but we also need Newt’s ideas. I hope that in his second term, President Obama finds a place for him.

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