COCOA, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich is promising to establish a permanent base on the moon by 2020 if he's elected president.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, told an overflow crowd gathered on Florida's space coast Wednesday that he wants to develop a robust commercial space industry in line with the airline boom of the 1930s. He also wants to expand exploration of Mars.
The pronouncements appeared to thrill the crowd of roughly 700 people. Florida's space coast is still suffering from a recent round of federal cuts to the space program.
But how would Gingrich pay for it?
The Republican presidential contender says he wants to offer prizes to help stimulate investment by the private sector.
Gingrich has mentioned his plans for space travel frequently during the campaign. In a Jan. 23 debate, he said that he would like to go back to the moon "permanently" and get to Mars "as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space."
He was later asked if he wanted to use public or private funds for space travel. "Well, the two are not incompatible," he replied. "For example, most of the great breakthroughs in aviation were as a result of prizes. [Charles] Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize. I would like to see vastly more of the money spent encouraging the private sector into a very aggressive experimentation. I would like a leaner NASA. I don't think building a bigger bureaucracy and having a greater number of people sit in rooms and talk gets you there. But if we had a series of goals that we were prepared to offer prizes for, there is every reason to believe you have folks in this country and around the world who would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the space coast literally hum with activity because they'd be drawn to achieve prizes."
Gingrich's futurism goes farther back than the campaign. In his 1995 book, To Renew America, he offered a bold prediction: "honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020."