New super PAC takes moon shot

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter staffers want more research investments

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No space rock is so political as the moon.

President John F. Kennedy vowed to land a man there and return him safely to Earth.

President Richard Nixon presided over humanity's first successful moon landing, all while prepping for the worst.

More recently, Newt Gingrich — to innumerable snickerspromised that, as president, he'd colonize the moon.

It's fitting, therefore, that the 2016 election will feature a decidedly lunar super PAC.

Dubbed the "America is Super PAC" and officially registered with federal regulators Sunday, the new committee is led by three members of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Science Operations Center team at Arizona State University.

The America is Super PAC is "entirely unrelated" to their work on the orbiter project, said Nick Estes, one of the super PAC's founders.

But the trio shares "some common interests and political views, and we decided to give this a go as private citizens," he added.

Those common interests, Estes says, include concerns about corporate interests' expanded role in politics and a desire to increase federal spending on basic research and education.

The America is Super PAC probably won't itself grow too big, Estes acknowledged.

Nevertheless, he said, the super PAC plans to "raise what funds we can to inform the public about candidates who share our views" on basic research and education. America is Super PAC has not yet chosen specific candidates to support, he added.

"We formed the PAC partly as an exercise to see first-hand how the system works, and partly to try to do some good with it," Estes said.

Simply forming a super PAC guarantees little. Most of the nearly 1,000 such committees registered with the Federal Election Commission have raised little or no cash, with billionaire-buoyed behemoths such as conservative American Crossroads and liberal Senate Majority PAC decided outliers.

By law, super PACs may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates. They've existed for less than five years, the indirect product of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009. Since then, the probe has gathered massive amounts of data on Earth's neighbor, about 240,000 miles distant.

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