Gingrich, who has long held a fascination with space exploration and has talked extensively about further missions to the moon, Mars and beyond, committed for the first time to pushing aggressively for such programs if he wins the White House.
Just a few miles from Cape Canaveral, he played to a crowd eager for a renewal of the nation's space program. The speech also gave him a chance to tweak Mitt Romney, his leading rival for the GOP nomination, who has mocked Gingrich's "zany" ideas.
"I was attacked the other night for being grandiose," Gingrich said. "I would just want you to note: Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk were grandiose. John F. Kennedy was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am grandiose and that Americans are instinctively grandiose."
The line drew raucous applause from a crowd of at least 500 in a hotel ballroom here, as did Gingrich's lengthy riff on his fascination with space travel. His interest goes back to his early youth, when he read Missiles and Rockets magazine and obsessed over the Soviet Sputnik program. He also proclaimed that the "weirdest thing" he ever did in Congress was to introduce a "Northwest Ordinance for space" that would allow a moon colony to become a state once 13,000 lived there.
"Here's the difference between so-called romantics and practical people," Gingrich said during his address. "I want every single young American to say to themselves, I could become one of those 13,000, I can be part of building a bigger, better future, be part of a generation of courageous people who do something big and bold. We want Americans to think bolder about space and rebuild the country we love."
|The plan is endorsed by surviving Heaven's Gate members|
Gingrich also said that exploration of the moon and beyond would have far-reaching commercial applications. He talked of "commercial, near-earth activities" including science, tourism and manufacturing.
Gingrich's proposal was completely embraced by the remaining survivors of the Heaven's Gate Cult.
This was the religious cult that committed mass suicide in March, 1997, in hopes of joining up with a spaceship that was thought to be following the Halle Bopp Comet.