U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has tried a new tactic to win voters – by promising to establish a permanent US base on the Moon by 2020 if he is elected.
He told a crowd near the Kennedy Space Centre, on Florida’s so-called Space Coast, that he wants to build a commercial space industry that can enjoy the kind of boom airlines saw in the 1930s.
The announcement won applause from hundreds of local aerospace bosses and community leaders, who have seen the space industry badly hit by federal cuts under Barack Obama.
“We want Americans to think boldly about the future,” said Mr Gingrich during the campaign rally. “By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the Moon and it will be American.”
Mr Gingrich said he would offer financial prizes – worth 10% of Nasa’s $18bn (£11.5bn) budget – to help stimulate investment in space missions from private firms.
Since the space shuttle programme came to an end last year, the US has been reliant on Russia to fly its astronauts on piggy-back missions to the International Space Station – at a cost of some $60m (£38m) per person.
A total of 12 Americans have left their footprints on the Moon in six manned missions, though the US last sent astronauts to land there in December 1972.
The race to put the first man on the Moon began in May 1961, when then-US president John F Kennedy announced America’s ambitious goal.