Newt Gingrich still has big moon dreams.
The former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives made headlines during his 2012 presidential run by promising to get a lunar colony up and running by 2020 if elected. And now Gingrich is trying to sell Donald Trump’s White House on a $2 billion competition to set up a crewed outpost on Earth’s nearest neighbor, according to Politico.
“The proposal, whose other proponents range from an Air Force lieutenant general to the former publicist for pop stars Michael Jackson and Prince, includes a $2 billion sweepstakes pitting billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other space pioneers against each other to see who can establish and run the first lunar base, according to a summary of the plan shared with Politico,” Politico reported on Monday (Aug. 19).
“Backers of the novel approach have briefed administration officials serving on the National Space Council, several members of the group confirmed, though they declined to provide specifics of the internal conversations,” the outlet added.
The companies run by Musk and Bezos — SpaceX and Blue Origin, respectively — would be the front runners to bag the $2 billion if the contest graduates from concept to reality, for both are already developing hardware to help establish off-Earth outposts.
SpaceX is building a 100-passenger spaceship called Starship and a huge rocket called Super Heavy, which could start flying missions as early as 2021. And Blue Origin recently unveiled its Blue Moon lunar lander, which will launch atop the company’s big New Glenn rocket.
So, it’s not too surprising that Musk is a fan of Gingrich’s plan. “This is a great idea,” Musk said via Twitter on Monday.
NASA already has plans to set up a crewed moon outpost. That’s one of the chief goals of the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole by 2024 and establish a long-term, sustainable presence on and around the moon shortly thereafter. But it will doubtless cost NASA considerably more than $2 billion to make all of that happen.
An exploration-spurring private moon race is not a novel idea. The Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), which ended last year without a winner, offered money to the first privately funded team to land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface and have it perform a few basic tasks. But Gingrich’s contest would be much more lucrative; the GLXP had a grand prize of $20 million and a total purse of $30 million.
Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.