While Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri held Republican primaries or caucuses on Tuesday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was not in any of those three states. Instead, he was on the campaign trail in Ohio, looking ahead to that state’s primary on Super Tuesday next month. In an appearance in Dayton yesterday, he mentioned space, sticking to his plans he laid out in a speech in Florida two weeks ago. “Immediately two of my opponents rushed into to say that’s really stupid,” the Wall Street Journal reported Gingrich as saying, referring to fellow candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. He defended his support for space exploration, according to POLITICO, citing the potential for job creation and technological spinoffs. “When we talk about job creation, just remember the iPhone you’re using, the iPad you’re using, the BlackBerry you’re using, the home computer you’re using, all those have components that were developed from the space program,” he said.
This is not the first time in recent days that the campaign has pushed back against criticism of his space policy from fellow candidates. “I am deeply concerned that Senator Santorum so easily relinquishes space development to the Chinese and Russians,” Gingrich national security advisor Stephen Yates said in a statement released by the campaign on Saturday. He was apparently referring to a radio ad released by the Santorum campaign Friday which dismissed Gingrich’s lunar base plans as “fiscal insanity”. “American success in space is not only about being the first to develop a station on the moon,” Yates said, citing an “explosion of math, science, engineering and national security technology” that would benefit the nation.
Commentators outside the Gingrich campaign are also coming to the candidate’s defense in recent days. In an op-ed in The American Spectator, former Reagan White House official Jeffrey Lord criticizes Santorum in particular for his attacks on Gingrich’s space policy. Lord calls Gingrich’s plan an “obvious intent to carry forward with the Reagan space legacy”, and thus attacks on Gingrich’s policy are, by Lord’s extension, an attack on Reagan’s legacy. “If Rick Santorum is going to try and become The Conservative Alternative at the expense of the Reagan space legacy — he should stop and get out of the campaign right now before he inflicts any more damage to himself and the conservative cause,” he writes. (Romney doesn’t escape Lord’s criticism: “his remark that he would fire anybody who came to him with a suggestion to continue Reagan’s space legacy with a program to colonize the moon was stunningly telling of exactly the problems a Romney nomination will bring.”)
Others have also defended the idea of a lunar base, although perhaps not the same level of rhetoric as The American Spectator piece. “Whatever misgivings you might have about Gingrich, in this case he is right,” former NASA official and longtime space advocate Charles Miller writes in a CNN commentary. He describes how the technology is there to allow a return to the Moon in 10 years for $40 billion, while also supporting development of commercial reusable vehicles that could lower the cost and increase the frequency of space access. “It’s time to go back to the moon — and, this time, to stay,” concludes Univ. of Colorado professor Jack Burns in a Denver Post op-ed today. He doesn’t explicitly endorse the Gingrich plan but lays out why a human return to the Moon in general “is not a loony idea”.