During the GOP debate in Florida Thursday night, CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates what they would do about the nation's foundering space program, an issue with significant implications for Florida, where many space missions launch.
"I'm not looking for a colony on the moon," Mitt Romney said, a clear jab at Newt Gingrich, who has been promoting lunar colonies and missions to Mars in recent days. "I think the cost of that would be hundreds of billions, if not trillions."
Gingrich said he would foster public-private partnerships with business leaders, and offer "a handful of prizes" to encourage individuals to seek accomplishments in space, noting that "Lindberg flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize."
"I'd like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there," Gingrich added.
Rick Santorum quickly poo-pooed the idea of expanding resources for space flight.
"We run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now ... and to go out there and promise great things and big ideas is not a responsible thing," Santorum said. "We have to start cutting programs."
"I don' think we should go to the moon," Ron Paul said. "I think maybe we should send some politicians up there sometimes ... I don't think we need a bigger [space] program. Health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon."
When the questioning came back to Romney, he immediately attacked Gingrich's idea of public-private space partnerships, insisting that there is not and should not be any private-sector appetite for lunar occupations.
"I was in business for 25 years," Romney said. "If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired.'"