To Fox River Grove native Andrew Gasser, the final frontier should not be gunked up by government regulation and red tape. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 2011, Gasser decided to combine his lifelong love of space and conservatism to found Tea Party in Space, a Washington, D.C.-based group dedicated to applying free-market principles to space exploration.
Senior reporter Kevin Craver, a fellow space nut who has fried a few brains of young journalists explaining relativity and the curvature of spacetime, talked to Gasser about his group and our future in space.
Craver: So what is this group?
Gasser: It’s a national tea party group that believes in fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets in space policy. All we talk about is space, and we actively work with Congress and individual policymakers to get good space policy through Congress, and ultimately signed by the president.
Craver: What all have you gotten done?
Gasser: We’ve done two really big things. We were the ones who started talking about how the James Webb Space Telescope (set to replace the Hubble) was $6 billion over budget. We were criticized for that, until a month later when the Florida Today newspaper validated everything we said. They raised the cost again – I’m now guessing it’s going to hit $9 billion over budget.
That’s bad, because all these neat things we can do in astrophysics are being pushed back to 2025, 2030.
We also pushed for reform of international arms-trafficking regulations. Back in the 1990s, a company turned over some very sensitive rocket technology to the Chinese. Congress overreacted and put most communications satellite technology on the restricted list. American satellite companies were at a disadvantage – they made the best communications satellites but couldn’t compete globally because of all the rules and regulations.
We reached out to 80 congressional offices and 40 senatorial offices to keep rocket technology on the list, but remove communication satellites. The president signed it into law last year.
Craver: I heard your group is getting an award for that.
Gasser: Yeah. It’s pretty humbling, actually – I’m still pinching myself.
Craver: To be blunt, there are other tea party groups that want to turn our nation’s science curriculum into Bible study, which is a goal that clashes with yours.
Gasser: They’re not executing tea party core values. Tea party values are solely limited government and free market. Social issues and things like that are social conservatism. That’s not what the tea party is. I’ve been criticized for saying things like that, but I stand by it.
Craver: What do you see happening with space exploration over the next 50 years?
Gasser: You’re going to see the private sector overtake NASA, I’d say within the next 15 years. We’re almost at what I call a “Lewis and Clark moment.” The government helped Lewis and Clark, helped build the railroads and the airline industry, but at some point government bureaucracy became so inefficient that the private sector blew right past it.
I’d be shocked if we didn’t have people on Mars in 50 years.
Craver: Who will be first?
Gasser: The U.S., but I think a private company will do it first.
Craver: If you could meet one scientist of astronaut, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Gasser: That’s easy – Gus Grissom. He was the fighter pilot of fighter pilots. He was a natural leader, and the guy just oozed awesomeness.
Craver: I have to ask – where did your trademark 10-gallon hat come from?
Gasser: Oklahoma, while I was stationed at Tinker [Air Force Base]. I had friends with ranches, and whenever I went to ride, they told me I needed a hat.
The Gasser lowdown
Who is he? Andrew Gasser, president of Tea Party in Space
Family? Three sons: Andrew, 17, Austin, 14, and Noah, 7.
Favorite movie? “Star Wars Episode IV”
Last book read? “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care),” by Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager