Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke late Friday afternoon at an Astrotech facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and, as expected, address his views on space policy in his relatively short (approximately 15-minute) speech. As in his previous discussions in two debate earlier this week, Romney said little about what he thought NASA and the national should be doing in space, but did describe what he would do to create a new vision for NASA if elected.
“So I’m not going to come here today and tell you precisely what the mission will be,” he said. “I’m going to tell you how I’m going to get there.” He said he would bring in people from various sectors of the space community, including the Defense Department, “astrophysicists from some of the leading institutions of the world”, industry executives, and NASA officials. They, he said, “will talk about each of those missions, each of those objectives, and then determine which mission for NASA, which mission for space, will most effectively carry out those missions.” That approach, he said, would make sure the job was done right and would support the nation as well as “protect ourselves from threats from space.”
Romney, in the passage above, was using “mission” in two different contexts: one being the plan for NASA that this interdisciplinary team—which sounds like something along the lines of blue-ribbon panels like the 2009 Augustine Committee and its predecessors—would develop, but also the objectives for the space program. In his speech Romney identified four objectives for American space efforts: “existential” studies of things “going on in the universe that could dramatically affect the Earth”, supporting commercial efforts, increasing the health and well-being of Americans through research and spinoffs, and national defense. “Each of them is, in and of itself, a critical priority, but collectively they suggest our space program is an integral part of America’s exceptionalism, and we must have a space program that combines all four of those missions.”
This approach to developing a mission for American space efforts was rooted in his experience in the private sector, where people collect data and and then make decisions based on the analysis of those data. That approach was different from others, he admitted, in comments that perhaps indirectly referred to Newt Gingrich’s speech two days earlier where he called the creation of a permanent lunar base by 2020. “In the politics of the past, to get your vote on the Space Coast, I’d promise hundreds of billions of dollars, or I’d lay out what my mission is,” he said. “I’m not going to do that. I know that’s something very attractive, very popular, but it’s simply the wrong thing to do.”
While Romney did not mention his rivals for the GOP nomination by name in the speech, he did directly attack President Obama. “If you wanted to put together a list of President Obama’s failures, it’s a long, long list, indeed. But the one in particular I want to talk about today is his failure to define a mission for the space program for this nation,” he said. “People are suffering because of that, we’ve lost technology because of that, people have lost jobs because of that. It’s time to have a mission for the space program of the United States of America.” Later in the speech he criticized the administration on more general grounds, such as the economy; the latter two-thirds of his speech, in fact, said little about space except for an anecdote about a Boy Scout troop that flew a flag on Challenger’s final mission and eventually got it back.