01/25/2012 08:57 EST | Updated 03/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Gingrich promises U.S. moon base by 2020

U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has promised to establish a permanent base on the moon by 2020 if he's elected in November.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who is campaigning to be his party's nominee, told an overflow crowd in Cocoa, Fla., Wednesday that he wants to develop a robust commercial space industry in line with the U.S. airline boom of the 1930s.

Gingrich also said he wants to expand exploration of Mars.

"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," Gingrich said to applause, reported Wednesday.

Gingrich, 68, also said he would push to develop propulsion technology that would get humans to Mars, Politico also reported.

Greeted with applause

The pronouncements appeared to thrill the crowd of roughly 700 people.

The city of Cocoa, located on Florida's Space Coast about 18 kilometres west of Cape Canaveral, is still suffering from a recent round of U.S. federal cuts to the space program.

As to how he'd pay for it, Gingrich said he wants to offer prizes to help stimulate investment by the private sector.

Last Saturday, Gingrich soundly defeated his closest Republican rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in the primary race in South Carolina.

The two, along with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul, are all campaigning in Florida ahead of next Tuesday's primary vote there.