Our piece, Mars Space Mission Has Many Opportunities For Produce And Packaging Innovations, brought a jesting objection from a produce industry luminary:
Your lead for the story about the Mars mission was a classic tease: you start by invoking Newt Gingrich to capture the reader’s attention but nowhere do you say when Newt is offering to go to the Red Planet. Shame on you!
— Bryan Silbermann, CAE
President and CEO
Produce Marketing Association
OK, we accept three slaps with a wet noodle for being coy, and we suspect that there are more than a few people who would be pleased to see Newt personally headed off to Mars. The truth is that Newt Gingrich, whatever his flaws, possesses one of the most interesting minds active in politics today. Unlike the traditional approach, in which NASA would be given the assignment and develop a Soviet-like five-year plan to develop it, Newt Gingrich has latched onto the idea of using prizes and other incentives to move the technology forward. As such, he doesn’t actually have a time frame as much as a methodology:
Robert Zubrin, who is the President of the Mars Society and author of a book titled The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, wrote a piece for National Review called, The Mars Prize: Newt Gngrich was right to propose it:
In August 1994, I was invited to have dinner with House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. At that time, I was a senior engineer working for Martin Marietta Astronautics in Denver, where I had been responsible for inventing a new plan called “Mars Direct.” By radically simplifying the mission architecture and making bold use of Martian resources starting on the very first mission, this concept offered the potential to reduce the cost and schedule of a human Mars-exploration program. NASA analysis had confirmed these advantages, and word had leaked to Newsweek, which featured it as the cover story of its July 25, 1994, issue celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. “A manned mission to Mars?” the editors asked. “The technology is already in place. And at $50 billion — one tenth of previous estimates — it’s a bargain.” Gingrich had read the article and wanted to know more.
Thus it was that I found myself in a closed room in a Chinese restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol, providing a detailed briefing on Mars-mission design to the future Speaker of the House.
Gingrich listened to me closely and became enthusiastic about the possibilities. “I want to support this with legislation,” he said. “But I want to do it in a more free-enterprise kind of way than just gearing up the NASA budget to go to Mars.” I countered by saying that while Mars Direct might cost $30 to $50 billion if implemented by NASA, if done by a private outfit spending its own money, the out-of-pocket cost would probably be in the $5 billion range. Thus if a prize several times this amount were put on offer for the first crew to reach the Red Planet, it might be possible to ignite a privately backed space race. Newt liked the idea and assigned an aide to join me in developing the details. We did so. But a few weeks later, Newt took the House, and amidst the hectic revolution and competing priorities of the Contract with America, our draft bill never saw the light of day. Last week, however, in a speech at Kennedy Space Center, Newt finally put the idea squarely in the center of the political stage by calling for the establishment of a $10 billion prize for the first private organization to successfully land a crew on Mars and return it safely to Earth.
The article flushes out the details. Beyond Mars, though, it does seem useful to think about the whole idea of identifying new ways to solve problems or pursue goals.
Because NASA is the way we have always gone to space, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that is the only way we can go to space.
That is, however, just as true in business. How many things are done in a certain way just because that is the way they have always been done?
How much more successful can our businesses become if we find ways to think anew?
It is fitting that Bryan Silbermann, President and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, should be the impetus for thinking about this issue.
Some 20 years ago, Bryan and PMA’s then-President, Bob Carey, invited this incipient Pundit to attend the PMA Board of Director’s meeting. The book that was given out to everyone: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It. A kind of anthem to the idea that we shouldn’t keep doing things as we always have just because we have always done things that way.
Many thanks to Bryan for pushing us to be more revealing on this issue.