Cape Canaveral, Fla.

At a rally in the warehouse of Astrotech Space Operations, Mitt Romney told an energized audience about the need to “define a mission” for the American space program. The Obama administration, he said, has failed to define such a mission.

“People are suffering because of that. We’ve lost technology because of that. People have lost jobs because of that. It’s time to have a mission for the space program for the United States of America,” Romney said, speaking just minutes away from the Kennedy Space Center.

But Romney's definition of his own plans for the space program was vague, and he took a veiled shot at GOP rival Newt Gingrich’s recent promises in nearby Cocoa that the United Sates should strive to build a “permanent base” on the surface of the moon.

“In the politics of the past, to get your vote in 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 somewhat attractive, very popular, but it’s simply the wrong thing to do. It’s not the best decision to make.”

So how would his White House formulate its mission for the space program? Romney takes a “listen to the troops on the ground” approach to the issue. Here’s his explanation:

Politicians love the idea of coming here 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. I spent my life in the private sector. Before you make tough decisions, you start off by saying, “What’s the objective?” And then you say, “Let’s gather the data to see what information we have.” And then we can make hypotheses 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 also laid out the broad objectives of an American space program: commercial, defense, and “existential.” Romney explained the latter of those objectives. “There are things going out there in the universe that could dramatically affect the earth [and] our climate, perhaps even a catastrophic event of some kind,” he said. “So going out and finding those things and preparing possible responses—that’s an important thing.”

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