Elon Musk lauds Newt Gingrich's $2B moon competition prize

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave his approval for a plan put forth by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to give a $2 billion prize to the first private company to establish and run the first base on the moon.

"This is a great idea," Musk tweeted in response to a story written up about the plan, which was first reported by Politico.

The plan, which was hatched by Gingrich, Air Force Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, Howard Bloom (the former music publicist to icons such as Michael Jackson, Prince and Billy Joel) and others, would be awarded in an effort to help cut down public spending on space exploration, primarily the domain of NASA. A source familiar with NASA's thinking told Fox News the space agency had not been made aware of the plan.

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"In the past, putting permanent housing on the moon has been estimated to cost between $50 billion and $500 billion," the proposal reads, according to Politico. "But several private companies have developed moon programs on their own dime. So we are now in a position to buy transportation and housing from private American companies. At an unbelievable drop in cost."

Gingrich, who is a Fox News contributor, told Politico that people would be "shocked" at how fast private space companies such as SpaceX and the Jeff Bezos-led Blue Origin can move.

According to the plan's summary, the plan would split the $2 billion into two installments. The first tranche would go to the "first company or organization that can land a roomy, comfortable human base on the moon" and the second installment would go to the company "that can set up and run that base."

“At NASA we look forward to working with new partners as we focus on executing Space Policy Directive 1 which instructs the agency to return American astronauts to the moon and pursue human exploration of Mars and the broader solar system," a NASA spokesperson told Fox News when asked about the Gingrich-led plan. "NASA is implementing this plan through the Artemis program which will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024.”

Fox News has reached out to Gingrich for additional comment for this story.

In May, Bezos unveiled an ambitious plan to send a spaceship to the moon, the Blue Moon lunar lander. The robotic ship is the size of a small house and is capable of carrying four rovers, using a newly designed rocket engine and souped-up rockets. It would be followed by a version that could bring people to the moon along the same timeframe as NASA's proposed 2024 return.

The Amazon chief, who was dwarfed by his mock-up of the Blue Moon vehicle at his presentation in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, said, "It's time to go back to the moon. This time to stay.”

It's unclear whether President Trump has been made aware of the plan. However, the Trump administration and the president himself have expressed some dissatisfaction with the pace NASA is on to return astronauts to the moon and ultimately, to Mars.

In March, Vice President Mike Pence called on NASA to step up the pace and land astronauts on the moon within five years, “by any means necessary.”

Pence warned that if NASA can't put astronauts on the moon by 2024, "we need to change the organization, not the mission."

"It's time to redouble our effort," Pence said during a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Ala. "It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace."

“We’re not committed to one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will," Pence added. "If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development, then we’ll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be."

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In June, Trump sent a surprising tweet that caught many in the space community off-guard, lambasting NASA for talking about going to the moon.

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon -- We did that 50 years ago," Trump wrote in a tweet aboard Air Force One. "They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

It's not known what prompted Trump's tweet and exactly what he meant when he said the moon is a part of Mars. In May, Trump tweeted that under his administration, NASA would return to the moon and ultimately, Mars, in an effort to "return to space in a big way!"

Others in the space community, including Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, have also expressed dissatisfaction with NASA's pace.

Speaking at a White House event honoring the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, said he was "disappointed" with the progress America's space program has made since he and Neil Armstrong became the first men to walk on another celestial body.

"[I'm] disappointed in the progress in the past 50 years," Aldrin said at the event held in the Oval Office. "We had a rocket, the Saturn 5. We have the [No. 1] rocket and spacecraft and they can’t get into lunar orbit. That’s a great disappointment to me."

Collins, who recently recounted what the Apollo 11 mission was like, believes NASA should skip a return trip to the moon and head straight for Mars.

NASA's Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who also attended the event, said the space agency is "working on it."

In June, Bridenstine said Project Artemis, the successor to the Apollo program, would cost between $20 billion and $30 billion.

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Fox News' James Rogers and Bradford Betz contributed to this story.