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Gingrich calls for ‘bold’ space program, opens Orlando, Fla., campaign office

This news story was published on January 15, 2012.
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By Scott Powers, The Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Friday he wants a “bold” space program, and he called for NASA to accept more risk and offer tax-free cash prizes for private space enterprise.

The former U.S. House speaker told the Orlando Sentinel editorial board he wants America to “reclaim (the) vision” expressed in President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 call for the United States to lead exploration of space.

“I love the romance of space,” Gingrich said. “I love the idea of going out there. I love the idea of (following) John F. Kennedy’s speech on why we should go to the moon.”

Given the retirement of the space shuttle and a delay in the next U.S. rocket capable of taking humans into space until at least 2018, the space issue could have significant resonance on Florida’s Space Coast, as the Republican presidential field approaches the Jan. 31 primary.

Gingrich, who finished fourth in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, stopped short of saying he must win Florida, but did say it could be a “make-or-break state.” In Orlando to open an office and raise money, he clearly hopes his views on space will distinguish him from his five GOP rivals and especially front-runner Mitt Romney, who recently mocked him for wanting to colonize the moon.

NASA’s long-term deep-space plans — and its encouragement of commercial alternatives — face daunting federal budget battles. Gingrich did not specifically address money, except to complain about NASA’s bureaucracy.

Gingrich said NASA must be “more realistic about risk-taking,” both for itself and in encouraging the private space industry, including offering large cash prizes to entrepreneurs willing to invest in new space technology, including a private space station, moon colonization and a trip to Mars.

“People take risks to climb Mt. Everest. People take risks to hang-glide. People take risks to do lots of things,” Gingrich said. “If you offer a more open-ended system, you say, ‘Here’s the prize to get there but we understand it’s risky,’ I think you’ll see a lot more people investing and taking risks.”

Currently, companies such as Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are competing for grants to develop space launch vehicles and capsules that can put astronauts into low Earth orbit. Others, such as Bigelow Aerospace and Excalibur Almaz, are developing private space stations.

Later, speaking to a crowd of about 150 people, Gingrich called on the super PAC that supports him to withdraw commercials it is running in South Carolina criticizing Mitt Romney and his old company, Bain Capital. The PAC has been running a 30-minute ad based on a documentary called “King of Bain,” which has been roundly criticized by Romney and awarded “Four Pinocchios” by The Washington Post for being inaccurate and misleading.

Gingrich, who had vowed in Iowa to run a “positive” campaign after he was roughed by ads bought by Romney’s super PAC, said he was living up to his previous promises.

“It’s important why my campaign is different than some other people’s campaigns,” he said, adding, “I think we should have somebody who wants to be president ought to have the courage to stand up for the truth, and ought to be prepared to say if something is false.”

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