"Regardless of what happens to Newt, I'm afraid he's poisoned the issue for at least a decade"

Instead, a week later, space policy experts and enthusiasts are shaking their heads and tallying the damage. At best, Gingrich squandered a real opportunity to reinvigorate the program.

“Gingrich, if he made it not sound crazy — which he did — could have used this,” lamented Arlin Crotts, a Columbia astronomer and space travel backer. “But now — Gingrich just can’t control himself sometimes.”

Others believe the former Speaker did lasting harm to his pet cause.

“To treat building a base on the moon as a grandiose joke, as the media and many conservatives are doing, is really sad,” said a senior aide to a member of the pro-space Florida Congressional delegation. “Regardless of what happens to Newt, I’m afraid he’s poisoned the issue for at least a decade, and really set back the future of human space exploration.”