Newt Gingrich is the one who made headlines by calling for a moonbase and a manned flight to Mars, but this week Mitt Romney picked up endorsements from a group of prominent figures from the space program, as reported by Florida Today:
A group that includes the first space shuttle pilot, the last man to walk on the moon and a former NASA administrator endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday, saying the former Massachusetts governor would ensure “America will once again lead the world in space.”
Veteran shuttle mission commander and pilot Bob Crippen, Apollo 17 mission commander Gene Cernan, former NASA chief Mike Griffin and five others issued an open letter of support for Romney.
“We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission,” the letter says. “This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation.”
Other space program executives endorsing Romney include Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures; Peter Marquez, former Director of Space Policy for the National Security Council; William Martel, Tufts University professor; and Mark Albrecht, U.S. Space LLC Chairman of the Board.
U.S. Space is “a U.S.-owned provider of dedicated, commercial space solutions to serve the nation’s interests.” They offer “not only the innovative satellite service solutions that combine the best attributes of military and commercial satellites, but also in-orbit satellite life extension services, and L-band mobile communications services.”
Space Adventures is “the only company currently providing opportunities for actual private spaceflight and space tourism today.” Among their clients are the first male and female private space explorers, Dennis Tito and Anousheh Ansari. They also put computer game pioneer Richard Garriott into orbit, which probably violates dozens of interstellar ordinances against permitting video game geeks to leave their planets of origin.
Here is what Romney had to say on the topic of space exploration during the second Florida debate, beginning with a response to Gingrich’s moonbase proposal:
That’s an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the space coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I’d like to bring in the — the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we’re doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.
And — and finally of course, the — the people from — the administration if I had an administration. I’d like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I’d like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a — in a part — in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I — I believe in a manned space program. I’d like to see whether they believe in the same thing.
I’m not — I’m not looking for a — a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I’d rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.
Later in the debate, Romney accused Gingrich of pandering to Space Coast voters with his big plans for the Final Frontier:
I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, “You’re fired.”
The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it’s not a good idea. And we have seen in politics — we’ve seen politicians — and Newt, you’ve been part of this — go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it’s very exciting on the Space Coast.
Essentially, Romney proposes a partnership between government and private industry, with an eye to developing the commercial and military applications of space travel, but nothing as grandiose as a moonbase or Mars flight. He’s most immediately interested in forming a commission of top scientists and industry leaders, to prepare more concrete proposals.
CNN notes that the group of space executives which endorsed Romney applauded him for being “realistic about America’s space program,” and expressed admiration for “the leadership, management skill, and commitment to American exceptionalism possessed by only one candidate in this race: Mitt Romney.”