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Romney praises space program, promises to launch mission study

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Astrotech Space Operations in Cape Canaveral, Fla.


TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- In sharp contrast to Newt Gingrich's visit to this area at the heart of America's space program two days earlier, in which he promised to put a permanent American colony on the moon by 2020, Mitt Romney delivered remarks here Friday afternoon that were devoid of multibillion-dollar promises, but also of specifics as to what precisely America's mission in space should be going forward.

"In the politics of the past, to get [the vote of] the Space Coast, I’d come here and promise hundreds of billions of dollars." Romney said. "Or I'd lay out what my mission is. Here's what we're going to accomplish. I’m not going to do that. I know that's something that's very attractive, very popular but it's simply the wrong thing to do."

Related: Gingrich promises US moon colony by 2020

"Politicians love the idea of coming in and saying what they're going to do without having studied it, without having carried out the analysis and gotten the data, done the hard work. I won't do that," Romney continued. "I spent my life in the private sector ... Before you made tough decisions, you did some work. You started off by saying what's the objective? And then you said let's gather the data to see what information we have, and then you create hypothesis to see what different choices might be, and then you choose one. You select that as your mission. You expect a leader to deliver and get it done.

Romney proceeded to describe the importance of the space program for commerce, defense, and for dealing with what he referred to as "existential threats," like the climate or catastrophe. But Romney, displaying the deference to data and study described above, did not lay out a specific mission for the American space program, which has been left largely rudderless and shrinking since the retirement of the space shuttle earlier this year.

"I’m not going to come here today and tell you precisely what the mission will be. I’m going to tell you how I’m going to get there," Romney said. "That is by bringing in people from the Department of Defense, the Air Force and other branches of service.  Astrophysicists from some of the leading institutions in the world, along with people from the commercial sector, the industrial sector, as well as people from NASA. And come together and talk about each of those missions, each of those objectives. And then determine which mission for NASA, which mission for space will most effectively carry out those missions."

Related: Last man on moon, other space leaders back Romney

This afternoon's event fit a pattern of smaller, more specifically targeted events in Florida, in lieu of the large rallies that made up the bulk of Romney's campaign stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina -- reflecting a renewed focus on messaging, campaign advisers say. The crowd of a few hundred here was vocal and supportive, a good sign for Romney, who lost Brevard county to John McCain by five points in 2008.

Friday night, Romney will break the small-event mold and hold one final event of the day in Orlando -- a grassroots rally in which he will accept the endorsement of Puerto Rico's governor, Luis Fortuno. The endorsement could help Romney win over Hispanic voters here, who make up 11 percent of registered Republicans in Florida, and who broke heavily in favor of Sen. John McCain four years ago.