Space again emerged as a key topic for GOP presidential candidates as they debated Thursday night in Jacksonville.
Here's what they had to say, based on a CNN transcript:
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Matthew Bathel (ph). My question is, what would your plan be for the future of manned space flight and the future of NASA?
WOLF BLITZER: All right, let me go to Governor Romney on this one. An important issue, especially here in Florida where a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result of the decline of the space program. Yesterday Speaker Gingrich outlined a -- a pretty long plan on what to do about it and he said that by the end of his second term, if he were elected president, there would be a permanent base on the moon. Good idea?
MITT ROMNEY: That's an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the space coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I'd like to bring in the -- the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we're doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.
And -- and finally of course, the -- the people from -- the administration if I had an administration. I'd like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I'd like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a -- in a part -- in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I -- I believe in a manned space program. I'd like to see whether they believe in the same thing.
I'm not -- I'm not looking for a -- a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.
BLITZER: We have a question. I want to speaker to weigh in as well.
BLITZER: This question is related from -- we got it from Twitter. Speaker Gingrich, how do you plan to create a base on the moon while keeping taxes down in eight years?
NEWT GINGRICH: I think, look it's a great question. You start with the question, do you really believe NASA in it's current form is the most effective way of leveraging investment in space? We now have a bureaucracy sitting there, which has managed to mismanage the program so well that in fact we have no lift vehicle. So you almost have to wonder, what does the Washington office of NASA do? Does it sit around and think space?
GINGRICH: Does it contemplate that some day we could have a rocket? My point in the speech I made yesterday, which is on CSPAN and I'd love to have all of you look at it. It's based on having looked at space issues since the late 1950's when missiles and rockets was a separate magazine. And working with NASA and others. I believe by the use of prizes, by the use of incentives, by opening up the space port so that it's available on a ready basis for commercial fight, by using commonsense for example the Atlas-V could easily be fixed into a man capable vehicle so you didn't have to rely on -- on a Russian launch or a Chinese launch.
There are many things you can do to leverage accelerating the development of space. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000.00 prize. If we had a handful of serious prizes, you'd see an extraordinary number of people out there trying to get to the moon first in order to have billed (ph) that. And I'd like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum?
RICK SANTORUM: I -- I believe America's a frontier nation and obviously the frontier that -- that we're talking about is -- is the next one, which is space. And that we need to inspire. One of the big problems we have in our country today is that young people are not getting involved in math and science and not dreaming big dreams. So NASA or the space program where space is important, NASA is one component that -- our -- our space defense is another area. I think both of -- both of which are very, very important. I agree that we need to bring good minds in the private sector much more involved in NASA than the government bureaucracy that we have. But let's just be honest, we run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now. We're -- we're borrowing 40-cents of every dollar. And to go out there and promise new programs and big ideas, that's a great thing to maybe get votes, but it's not a responsible thing when you have to go out and say that we have to start cutting programs, not talking about how to -- how to -- how to grow them.
We're going to cut programs. We're going to spend -- under my administration, we're going to spend less money every year -- every year. Year, to year, to year the federal government amount of spending will go down for four years until we get a balanced budget. And you can't do that by -- by -- by grand schemes. Whether it's the space program or frankly whether it's the Speaker's Social Security program, which will create a brand-new Social Security entitlement. Those are things that sound good and maybe make big promises to people, but we've got to be responsible in the way we allocate our resources.
BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment, but...
BLITZER: Congressman Paul, Texas, the space program very important there as well. Where do you stand on this?
RON PAUL: Well, I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.
PAUL: But I went -- I went into the Air Force in 1962 and studied aerospace medicine. Actually had a daydream about maybe becoming the first physician to go into space. That -- that didn't occur, but I see space -- the amount of money we spend on space, the only part that I would vote for is for national defense purposes. Not to explore the moon and go to Mars. I think that's fantastic. That's -- I love those ideas. But I also don't like the idea of building government business partnerships. If we had a healthy economy and had more Bill Gateses and more Warren Buffetts, the money would be there. It should be privatized, and the people who work in the industry, if you had that, there would be jobs in aerospace.
And I just think that we don't need a bigger, a newer program, when you think of the people -- I mean, health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon. So, I would be very reluctant, but space technology should be followed up to some degree for national defense purposes, but not just for the fun of it and, you know, for -- you know, for scientific --
BLITZER: We're going to leave this subject, but before we do, I want Speaker Gingrich to clarify what you said yesterday in that major speech you delivered on space. You said that you would support a lunar colony or a lunar base, and that if 13,000 Americans were living there, they would be able to apply for U.S. statehood from the moon.
GINGRICH: I was meeting Rick's desire for grandiose ideas. But --
BLITZER: That's a pretty grandiose idea.
GINGRICH: But let me make just two points about this.
It is really important to go back and look at what John F. Kennedy said in May of 1961 when he said, "We will go to the moon in this decade." No American had orbited the Earth. The technology didn't exist.
And a generation of young people went into science and engineering and technology, and they were tremendously excited. And they had a future.
I actually agree with Dr. Paul. The program I envision would probably end up being 90 percent private sector, but it would be based on a desire to change the government rules and change the government regulations, to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it's easy for private sector people to be engaged.
I want to see us move from one launch occasionally to six or seven launches a day because so many private enterprises walk up and say, we're prepared to go do it. But I'll tell you, I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, it doesn't really matter, let the Chinese dominate space, what do we care? I think that is a path of national decline, and I am for America being a great country, not a country in decline.
BLITZER: We're going to move on, but go ahead, Governor Romney.
ROMNEY: 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."
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. And we have seen in politics -- we've seen politicians -- and Newt, you've been part of this -- go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it's very exciting on the Space Coast.
In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don't have to go to Boston.
Look, 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. We've got to say no to this kind of spending.
GINGRICH: I want to make two points.
First, I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaign in. For example, the port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded because the Panama Canal is being widened, and I think that's useful thing for a president to know. I think it's important for presidents to know about local things.
Second -- and at the other end of the state, the Everglades Restoration Project has to be completed, and it's the federal government which has failed.
But, second, in response to what Rick said, when we balanced the budget with the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and ultimately had four consecutive balanced budgets, we doubled 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.
You don't just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done.