The future of NASA and the American space program was a topic of discussion at the US GOP debate in Florida on Monday, with the two leading Republican presidential hopefuls answering questions on their vision of the future of American spaceflight. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spoke positively of the importance of space exploration, and emphasized the need for further development of the commercial space industry in the United States.
“[Space] should certainly be a priority,” said Romney, when asked about spaceflight’s shrinking public investment. “Let’s have a collaborative effort, with business, with government, with the military as well as with our educational institutions,” he continued. ”Have a mission, once again excite our young people about the potential of space, and the commercial potential will pay for itself down the road.”
Gingrich was then asked if he would he invest more money into a manned mission to Mars should he be elected. “I would like to see vastly more of the money spent encouraging the private sector into very aggressive experimentation,” said Gingrich, suggesting that incentives, such as the Orteig Prize that inspired Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 transatlantic flight, would be the best way to reach the Red Planet. ”Going back to the moon permanently, getting to Mars as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space, there is a whole series of things you could do that would [be]dynamic, that would be more than just better government bureaucracy,” Gingrich continued.
Despite these acknowledgements of the importance of space development, neither candidate proposed that NASA funding be increased; Gingrich even hinted that NASA could face a reduction in its budget, claiming he would like to see “a leaner NASA.”
Although candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were also present, neither was asked any questions about the American space program. A few days later, in response to criticism from Romney regarding the feasibility of his vision for American spaceflight, Gingrich announced to a small crowd of supporters that he would like to see a permanent American base on the moon by 2020.
The video below shows the candidates responding to spaceflight-related questions at the debate in Florida.