Gingrich goes to Space Camp

So the Republican presidential hopeful came to the home of Space Camp on Tuesday and stood in front of a lunar module replica to reinforce his point: “This isn’t the end state of this space program; this is the launch pad for the next phase of excitement.”

He spoke at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, located in a NASA-powered area of the country similar to Florida’s Space Coast -- where Gingrich in January pitched an American colony on the moon by the end of his second term. Alabama votes March 13, and the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia sees an opportunity to win here as he relies on the South for a campaign resurgence. He is scheduled to return to east Cobb County tonight for a Super Tuesday party with supporters.

The moon colony idea was “lampooned,” Gingrich said, in many corners, including Saturday Night Live, where he was spoofed in a skit entitled: “Newt Gingrich: Moon President.” His chief rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, mocked the idea during a Florida debate as fanciful and too expensive.

Not so, said Gingrich, who reminds voters across the country that there had been no American manned space flight when President John F. Kennedy first proposed to go to the moon by the end of the 1960s. As far as expense, Gingrich said he wants to “fundamentally reform” NASA and use private capital by establishing prizes for innovation, so it will not further drain federal coffers.

Gingrich said the U.S. space program – a source of national pride for so many years – is part of what it means to be American.

“I invite Saturday Night Live to come to Huntsville to tape one of their skits,” Gingrich said as the crowd chuckled. “They can tape it at the space camp. Because I want to restate: America has a destiny in space, that’s who we are. We are not backing off John F. Kennedy’s challenge and we are not going to go timidly into the night and let the Chinese dominate the future in space.”

Though Gingrich said he was reiterating his big plans for NASA, he did not offer the specifics that he did in Florida about establishing a lunar base, talking in more generalities about the need to revive manned space flight and for the U.S. to do big things. He accused those who deride his ideas of being overly pessimistic.

“I couldn’t imagine a candidate being as negative as both [Romney] and Santorum were about the future,” Gingrich said.

“This is the country that invented the airplane. This is the country that invented the mass-produced car. This is the country that invented the electric light. Go back and look at the telegraph, the telephone. We liberated people. We allowed them to go out and create a better future, and that’s what a Gingrich campaign is all about, that we can unleash the American people and that we can rebuild the America we love and that is the only way we can create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

Bobby Smith, who works for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, said he supports Gingrich because of his ability to put forth transformational ideas. More manned space flight would not be more costly if goosed with private investment as Gingrich proposes, Smith said.

“That’s what separates him from the other candidates,” Smith said.

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