In what was perhaps one of the more lively GOP debates among the entire spectrum of showdowns thus far, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lampooned rival Newt Gingrich for his proposal to colonize the moon and accused the former House speaker of pandering to Florida's Space Coast.
"I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired!'" Romney said matter-of-factly.
Mocking the prospect of using private entities to fund a lunar colony, Romney added, "The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it's not a good idea."
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Gingrich on Wednesday laid out an extensive plan to have a permanent U.S. base on the moon by the end of his second term as president. He said that once 13,000 Americans were living on the moon, the colony could apply for statehood. The promise could appeal to Florida's space industry, which has struggled since NASA ended the U.S. shuttle program in 2011.
In Florida, he said, Gingrich promises to spend "untold amounts of money" on a moon colony, while he promises a new Veterans Health Administration hospital in New Hampshire and a new interstate highway in South Carolina.
"This idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into the trouble we're in now," Romney said. "We've got to say no to this kind of spending."
Developing a lunar base would cost "hundreds of billions, if not trillions," Romney said, adding, "I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S."
In response, Gingrich reminded that he helped pass the 1997 Balanced Budget Act to balance the federal budget while doubling the size of the National Institutes of Health, "because we set priorities."
"It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country," he said.