Cocoa, Florida (CNN) - Newt Gingrich laid out his “bold” vision for space exploration Wednesday, including the goal of putting an American base on the moon by 2020.
The former House speaker was campaigning on Florida’s “Space Coast,” named for the heavy influence of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located on Merritt Island, and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida holds its primary January 31.
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In his speech, Gingrich made no apologies for his “grandiose ideas” on space, which some of his opponents have cited as a fault.
“I accept the charge that I am an American and Americans are instinctively grandiose,” he said. Rival candidate Rick Santorum hit Gingrich at a GOP debate in South Carolina for having “grandiose” plans that lacked proper execution.
Rival Mitt Romney has mocked Gingrich’s space proposals, saying during a December 10 debate he was not in favor of Gingrich’s “idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.”
Romney added, “I’m not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that.”
Gingrich pointed Wednesday to a proposal he made early in his career, which would have allowed American residents of the moon to petition for statehood when they reached a population of 13,000.
Gingrich admitted Wednesday the proposition was “the weirdest thing I’ve ever done,” but said he was still a proponent of the plan.
“I will, as president, encourage the introduction of the ‘Northwest Ordinance’ for space to put a marker down that we want Americans to think boldly about the future, and we want Americans to go out and study hard and work hard and together we're going to unleash the American people to build the country we love,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich said Romney missed the larger point when criticizing his space plan.
“Here's the difference between romantics and so-called practical people,” Gingrich said, contrasting himself to Romney. “I wanted every young American to say to themselves, ‘I could be one of those 13,000, I could be a pioneer.’”
Gingrich said Americans should feel “part of a generation of courageous people who do something big and bold and heroic.”
The White House hopeful didn’t stop at the moon, saying Mars would also be in America’s sights if he were elected president.
“By the end of 2020, we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time, because I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I am sick of being told we have to be limited in technologies that are 50 years old,” Gingrich said.