ORLANDO, Fla. - It's a topic Paul Ryan hasn't discussed before on the campaign trail, but at an event today Paul Ryan unleashed on President Obama on the issue of space exploration, saying he has "presided over a dismantling of the space program over the last four years."
"We are near the space coast, I think it's important that we have a space program that has a clear space mission, a space program that we know where we are heading in the future, and a space program that is the unequivocal leader on the planet in space travel and space research," Ryan said at an event at the University of Central Florida, about an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center.
"We don't have that right now," he said. "Look at what we have gotten out of this. The space program strengthens the entrepreneurial spirit and competitiveness. They launch new industries and new technologies. President Obama campaigned quite a bit around Florida, around the space coast, in 2008 - made lots of promises. This is another one of those broken promises."
Ryan continued, saying the president has put the "space program on a path where we are conceding our global position as the unequivocal leader in space."
"Today, if we want to send an astronaut to the space station, we have to pay the Russians to take him there," Ryan said to boos from the crowd. "China may someday be looking down on us from the Moon. That's unacceptable. Mitt Romney and I believe that America must lead in space. Mitt Romney and I believe we need a mission for NASA, a mission for a space program, and we also believe that this is an integral part of our national security."
Ryan is referring to the president's shift in NASA funding, when he moved away from the goal of sending astronauts back to the moon by the year 2020, as proposed under the Constellation program begun by President George W. Bush. Obama has proposed sending NASA astronauts to a passing asteroid and eventually on to Mars; in the meantime his administration has mandated that the job of servicing the space station be handed off to private companies.
Space is a topic the Romney campaign hasn't stressed on the campaign trail - there was hardly a mention at their convention in Tampa last month - but one they decided to focus on at Ryan's event today as well as releasing a policy paper outlining their plan.
Republicans as well as former astronauts like Neil Armstrong, who passed away last month, were highly critical of the president's plan when Constellation was cut in 2010. Armstrong called it "devastating" and there has been high joblessness in the space coast area.
In the policy roll out, the Romney campaign writes, "A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities," but stays vague on specific space exploration policies.
This is an almost identical message to one Obama gave in a policy speech at the Kennedy Space Center in April 2010, when he said, "We've got to do it in a smart way … and we can't just keep on doing the same old things we've been doing and thinking that's going to get us where we want to go."
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns also stress the need for private sector companies to invest in space travel and exploration.
The Obama campaign reacted to Ryan's comment this afternoon by noting that Ryan voted against NASA funding twice in the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts, and pointing a critique Romney gave to Newt Gingrich in the primary when he campaigned on the space coast and famously pledged to build a colony on the moon.
"In the past, Mitt Romney has criticized Washington politicians for pandering to Florida voters by making empty promises about space. After his event today, it's probably time for Romney to have a talk with Paul Ryan. Congressman Ryan has repeatedly voted against NASA funding, and the Romney-Ryan budget's cuts - if applied across the board - would cut funding for space exploration programs by 19 percent," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement.
Although space hasn't been an issue discussed much by the Romney-Ryan campaign, the rising national debt is. Standing in front of a national debt clock ticking up, the GOP vice presidential nominee unveiled a new power point presentation at the event detailing the debt and how it affects Americans.
It was moments after hitting the president on space, but it remains unclear, besides the campaign's promise of continued space exploration without "more funding," how the two issues - space exploration while cutting the national debt - would be accomplished.