Romney, Gingrich Talk Space
At last night's Republican presidential primary debate, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich shared their views on the future of the space program. Not surprisingly, both criticized the Obama Administration's program, but perhaps unknowingly supported one of its key elements -- greater reliance on the private sector.
Gingrich went further than Romney, focusing on the use of prizes to stimulate private sector investment in visionary space activities while calling for "a leaner NASA." Prizes are part of the Obama strategy, too, but Gingrich seems intent on making them the cornerstone of the future space exploration program he would design.
Romney complained that President Obama "does not have a vision or a mission for NASA" and as a result Florida and especially its Space Coast are suffering. He believes space is important for science, commercial development and the military and that a vision should be established by bringing together representatives of all of those sectors. He added that NASA should be funded not only by the government "but also by commercial enterprises. Have some of the research done in our universities." Exciting young people and leading the world were other goals he espoused.
A substantial amount of NASA's research is already done by universities, of course, but the concept of commercial enterprises funding NASA instead of the reverse -- as is true now -- would certainly be a change. U.S. leadership and inspiring youth are long-standing goals of politicians of both parties.
Gingrich, who plans a major speech about the space program this week, perhaps tomorrow, extolled the use of prizes to encourage "the private sector into very aggressive experimentation" -- with less spent at NASA. "I don't think building a bigger bureaucracy and having a greater number of people sit in rooms and talk gets you there," he said. Instead he believes a "lot of folks in this country and around the world ... would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the space coast literally hum with activity" in order to win the prizes. Going back to the Moon and on to Mars, building more space stations and developing commercial space, he said, could be done by "leapfrogging into a world where you're incentivizing people who are visionaries and people in the private sector to invest very large amounts of money in finding very romantic and exciting futures."
The two were responding to questions from Beth Reinhard of the National Journal, one of the moderators of the debate. The other two candidates, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, were not asked questions about the space program.
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