Throughout his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich has painted himself as the "ideas candidate," and on Saturday (Dec. 10), he stood behind a very big idea: mining the moon.
The issue came up during the Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa. Moderator George Stephanopoulos asked former front-runner Mitt Romney to name a few issues on which he disagreed with Gingrich, who has surged into the lead in Iowa and several other early-primary states.
"Let's see. We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon," Romney said. "I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that."
Gingrich has indeed voiced support for lunar mining in the past, and he reaffirmed that support on Saturday.
"I'm proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology and telling them that some day in their lifetime, they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars," Gingrich said in response to Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor seemed to be insinuating that Gingrich is in favor of government-funded lunar colonies; if so, that may not be a fair charge. Gingrich has been critical of NASA, and he espouses a quite commercial version of space exploration and utilization.
"If you take all the money we've spent at NASA since we landed on the moon and you had applied that money for incentives to the private sector, we would today probably have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles," Gingrich said in June, during the first GOP debate in New Hampshire. "And instead, what we've had is bureaucracy after bureaucracy after bureaucracy, and failure after failure."
Gingrich's space vision isn't limited to the moon. He has also proposed setting up a system of mirrors in space that would beam sunlight down to Earth, negating the need for night-time lighting of highways.
During Saturday night's debate, Gingrich invoked the era in which he grew up to help explain why he keeps looking to the heavens.
"I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important," the former Speaker of the House said.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.