Space professionals got a chance to talk shop with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at a campaign fundraiser for the Democratic presidential candidate held here May 16.

Reporters were not invited to the event

, which was held at a private residence. But according to the accounts of several of the organizers, Richardson told the gathering he sees space as a bona fide area of economic growth and opportunity, citing New Mexico’s investment in Spaceport America —- which already has landed Virgin Galactic as an anchor tenant – as an example of the type of initiative he would pursue at the national level to spur job growth.

About two-thirds of the more than 50 people attending the fundraiser were from the space community. Organizers of the event included Personal Spaceflight Federation President Brett Alexander, consultant Lori Garver, Arianespace Inc. President Clay Mowry, consultant Jim Muncy, AlliantTechsystems Washington representative Erin Neal, and National Space Society Executive Director George Whitesides.

“We helped organize the event to offer our support to a demonstrably pro-space candidate, someone who has proven himself as a supporter of commercial space,” said Muncy, a former Republican staffer who said he made an undisclosed cash donation to reward Richardson for his leadership on space matters.

, who said he participated in the event as a private citizen, said Richardson spent about an hour at the event and engaged in one-on-one conversations with the guests after delivering his remarks.

“He was very interested to hear in an authentic way … what the space community thinks,” Whitesides said. “That was encouraging. He seemed genuinely interested and excited about space.”

Richardson did not offer an opinion on NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration but told attendees if he was president, the United States would land on the Moon the next year, then quickly admitted he probably could not get it done that fast. Richardson also claimed Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong as one of his heroes, adding that learning Armstrong was a Republican did nothing to change that.

Humor aside, several organizers said Richardson came across as genuinely pro-space.

“My view is that Richardson would take a fair look at space and NASA and that while his emphasis would be on partnering with the commercial community, as he has done in New Mexico, he recognized exploration as a goal of our space program,” said Garver, a former senior NASA official who advised Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on space policy during his 2004 presidential bid.

“His interest in energy and the environment would probably also drive some of what he thinks NASA should be doing,” Garver said. Richardson, who served as energy secretary under U.S

President Bill Clinton, has made energy a centerpiece of his campaign, calling for a “man-on-the-moon program” to reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

Richardson is not the only 2008 presidential hopeful to talk space this year. The Tallahassee Democrat reported April 5 that Republican candidate Rudolph

told Florida’s governor and Republican legislators during a meeting that ”he supported continuing to aggressively pursue space exploration.”

Like Richardson, Guiliani also put in a plug for energy independence. According to the paper, Guiliani “said the United States should prioritize energy independence much like it did the space race, when Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson fired up the gears of industry and imagination after the Soviet Union beat the U.S. into space”