CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The day after Newt Gingrich came to Florida’s Space Coast to lay out an ambitious plan to establish a U.S. colony on the moon, Mitt Romney journeyed here to offer a plan of his own.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Except Romney’s plan wasn’t much of a plan. And that seemed to be the point.

“In the politics of the past, to get your vote on the Space Coast, I’d come here and promise hundreds of billions of dollars,” Romney told a few hundred supporters inside a space operations warehouse here. “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.”

To be sure, Romney touted the importance of the space program to U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic. “Our space program is an integral part of American exceptionalism,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

But he promised nothing except that, if elected president, he would assemble the country’s top experts in government and the private sector to study what the space program’s mission should be.

“Before you make tough decisions, you start off by saying what’s the objective?” Romney said. “And then you say what’s the data and see what information you have. And then you create hypotheses, to see what different choices might be, and then you choose one… [and] you expect a leader to deliver and get it done.”

In his remarks here at Cape Canaveral, Romney never mentioned Gingrich, but his remarks at the carefully choreographed afternoon event seemed designed to draw a contrast with Gingrich’s expansive and detailed space agenda, which was a subject in Thursday night’s CNN debate.

Romney won the backing of eight prominent leaders of the U.S. space program, some of them veterans of the George W. Bush administration and others in top positions in the aerospace industry.

“Restoring the U.S. space program to greatness will require the leadership, management skill and commitment to American exceptionalism possessed by only one candidate in this race: Mitt Romney,” the eight leaders wrote jointly in an open letter distributed by Romney’s campaign.

These are the eight supporters :

— Scott Pace, chairman of the Romney Space Policy Advisory Group; Director, Space Policy Institute, The Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University; former Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

— Mark Albrecht, chairman of the board, USSpace; former Executive Secretary, National Space Council

— Eric Anderson, chairman and CEO, Space Adventures; chairman, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

— Gene Cernan, Commander, Apollo XVII

— Bob Crippen, pilot, First Space Shuttle Mission; former Director, NASA Space Shuttle Program

— Michael Griffin, former NASA Administrator; former Head of the Space Department, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

— Peter Marquez, former Director of Space Policy, National Security Council; former Director of Special Programs, Department of Defense

— William Martel, Associate Professor of International Security Studies, The Fletcher School at Tufts University; former Alan B. Shepard Chair of Space Technology and Policy Studies, Naval War College