JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CBS Houston/AP) – While appearing in Florida, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich shot for the moon.

Gingrich promised that “By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.”

Gingrich, the former House speaker, told an overflowing crowd gathered on Florida’s space coast Wednesday that he wants to develop a robust commercial space industry in line with the airline boom of the 1930s. He also wants to expand exploration of Mars.

“I am sick of being told we have to be timid, and I’m sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50-years old,” he said.

But during Thursday night’s Jacksonville debate, GOP rival Mitt Romney mocked that plan, saying Gingrich is developing a pattern of pandering to local voters.

“If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired,’” said Romney, a former businessman.

He then noted Gingrich’s calls for a new interstate highway in South Carolina, a new VA hospital in northern New Hampshire, and widening the port of Jacksonville to accommodate the larger ships that will soon be able to transit the Panama Canal. Romney said promises like that were what had caused a massive budget deficit in the first place.

Gingrich defended himself saying he’d find plenty of things to cut and shouldn’t be mocked for setting priorities.

“You don’t just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done,” he said

Romney’s response may have come from Gingrich’s pronouncements, which appeared to thrill the crowd of roughly 700 people when he announced the plans Wednesday. Florida’s space coast is still suffering from a recent round of federal cuts to the space program.

But how would Gingrich pay for it?

The Republican presidential contender says he wants to offer prizes to help stimulate investment by the private sector.

Gingrich is so confident in his vision in a lunar base that he said if the colony had 13,000 permanent American residents it should be considered for statehood.

He admits the proposal is “the weirdest thing [he’s] ever done,” but he’s not the first to do it. There exists a history of proposed moon colonies through the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

As recently as 2006 NASA planned to construct an outpost on one of the moon’s poles as part of the Constellation Program.

Constellation would send astronauts to the International Space Station, then to the Moon, and then to Mars and beyond.

The moon base was supposed to be operational by 2024, close to Gingrich’s deadline of 2020. However, it was cancelled in 2008 when President Obama cancelled the Constellation Program.

In 2010 President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act which directs NASA to build a new rocket called Space Launch System and an Orion Spacecraft.

This rocket could potentially send humans to a nearby asteroid, back to the Moon, and eventually Mars.

While exciting to Americans remembering the space race, annexing the moon as the 51st state would violate the United Nations’ “Space Treaty” signed by the US in 1967.

Article II of the document states “…the Moon…is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation.”

The Gingrich campaign did not return phone calls for comment.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (2)
  1. Luke Mullen says:

    Problems for Mitt:
    (1) How will Mitt fire Paul Allen, the 57th richest man in the world, Microsoft co-founder, sole investor in Burt Rutan’s Spaceship One which made the first private space flight?
    (2) How will Mitt fire Sir Richard Branson, the 254th richest person in the world, founder of all Virgin Enterprises, one of which is Virgin Galactic which is turning the Burt Rutan Spaceship One into a paying passenger spaceship line

    Mitt lost the “moon colony” argument due to not being current with either technology or the history of settlement (e.g. Northwest Ordinance of 1787).

    Private individuals will settle space as they settled the North American continent. Not a dime of gov’t money need be spent; however, a legal framework, where property rights (Mitt might want to more aggressively defend such) can be established. Cause if Paul Allen or others want to spend their own money settling the moon, might they want some legal recognition of their property rights (e.g. possession is nine-tenths of the law)?

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