Even as the space and political intelligensia was digesting the weekend’s comments by GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on lunar colonies, space mirrors, and other space issues, Gingrich spoke out again on space on Monday. In a rather collegial Lincoln-Douglas debate on national security and foreign policy issues with fellow presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Monday afternoon in New Hampshire, Gingrich referenced NASA as part of a broader discussion of procurement reform needed for the DoD. “You have a National Aeronautics and Space Administration which has currently got no vehicles that can get to the space station,” he said, starting at approximately the 58:30 mark of the video. “Has it occured to you to wonder what the billions are for and what the thousands of employees are doing? They sit around and they think space.” A ripple of laughter could be heard from the audience at this point. “Do you know how hard it is to get to a period where we’ve spent this much money and don’t have a vehicle that gets into space?”
Gingrich’s latest comments came after some reaction to Saturday night’s debate, when Romney argued that, unlike Gingrich, he did not support he development of a “lunar colony” for mining the Moon, while Gingrich responded that the US should be in space in an “aggressive, entrepreneurial way”. POLITICO sees this as the return of “Newt Skywalker”, the nickname applied to Gingrich in the 1980s when he was a congressman interested in space and other technology issues.
That article also includes a clip of a video interview with Romney on Monday where the former Massachusetts governor again raised the issue when asked about differences between himself and Gingrich. “The idea of a lunar colony? I think that’s going to be a problem in the general election,” Romney said about two and a half minutes into the clip. “So you’re suggesting he’s a little nutty?” asked POLITICO’s Mike Allen. “I’m suggesting he has differing views than I do on very important issues,” Romney responded, but later added, “I’m not going to characterize the Speaker’s views on science.”
Others, though, defended Gingrich’s views. “I’ve made fun of Gingrich before. There’s a lot to make fun of,” writes Dorian Davis in an op-ed for The Daily Caller. “But zapping him on the space program is shortsighted pandering.” David says that space is of strategic importance but decries the lack of a “John F. Kennedy-esque national public commitment” to spaceflight. Meanwhile, writing for National Review Online, Rand Simberg argues that the debate between Romney and Gingrich offers “a window into their mindsets”. Gingrich “sees space as a frontier of human opportunity and plenty, and wants to direct space policy toward opening it using the traditional American tools of entrepreneurship and competition,” Simberg writes, while Romney “comes off as someone who not only has given no serious thought to space policy other than as a cudgel against his political opponent, but as a soulless technocrat.”
And that whole idea of “space mirrors” raised by New York Times columnist David Brooks on Friday? PolitiFact judged that claims as true, with the caveat that it dates back to Gingrich’s first book, published in 1984 and based on a “NASA-sponsored new concepts symposium” held in 1979. Gingrich, PolitiFact adds, “doesn’t appear to have reiterated the call for floating mirrors in recent years, [so] we can safely assume the idea is no longer at the top of his policy agenda.”