- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2012

Kicking off the campaign season in early 2004, President Bush had two big ideas: pursue an immigration bill in Congress, and vow to put a man back on the moon by 2020 as a precursor to “human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.”

But that was eight years ago, before a dismal economy and a disastrous federal budget grounded his celestial ambitions.

Advantageous as it may have been for a standing Republican president to have dreamed of the moon two elections ago, it’s a call unlikely to emerge this campaign season from either President Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Mr. Obama, traveling in Florida on Sunday, did raise the issue by saying he has laid the groundwork for 21st-century space exploration.

Space ambitions get little attention outside of Florida and sometimes don’t play well even inside the state.

President Bush’s ambitious January 2004 vision for space exploration has been swallowed ... more >

Mr. Romney drew laughter during a Republican debate in Florida in January when he proclaimed that he would have fired primary contest rival Newt Gingrich for proposing the establishment of a human colony on the moon.

“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,’” Mr. Romney quipped. “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.”

For what is known as the Space Coast in Florida, exploration is an economic issue.

But for most voters, space exploration is more aspirational than concrete. They balance grand calls — such as President Kennedy’s prestigious promise to put a man on the moon — with questions about whether the government is spending enough money on schools and police.

That could be one reason why the Romney campaign has been nearly silent on the issue since the Florida primary in January. When it comes to the notion of a manned mission to Mars, for instance, the campaign won’t say one way or another whether the former Massachusetts governor supports it.

Pressed on the question recently, the campaign provided a quote from an interview with Mr. Romney on NBC the day after he chastised Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Romney said, “I’m not going to come here today and tell you precisely what the mission will be. I’m going to tell you how I’m going to get there.

“That is by bringing in people from the Department of Defense, the Air Force and other branches of service, astrophysicists from some of the leading institutions in the world, along with people from the commercial sector, the industrial sector, as well as people from NASA.”

The appearance dovetailed with an official campaign statement that said, as president, Mr. Romney “will create conditions for a strong and competitive commercial space industry that can contribute greatly to our national capabilities and goals.”

Hollow echoes

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