GINGRICH: We Need A Competition To Get America To The Moon — And Mars

Newt Gingrich Former Speaker of the House
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Working with Gen. Steve Kwast, former Congressman Bob Walker, and Dr. Greg Autry, we have developed a proposal for a prize-driven approach to developing the moon and Mars.

We believe it is possible for a prize to get Americans back to the moon faster — and much cheaper — than the traditional government bureaucracy. Some others have questioned our plan and the usefulness of such competitions.

However, there is a long history of prizes being successfully used to incentivize new technologies and new achievements.

In 1714, the British government offered a prize for a device that could accurately measure longitude to help in worldwide sailing. It led a watchmaker to produce the winning device.

In 1919 a New York hotel owner, Raymond Ortieg, put up $25,000 for the first person to fly the Atlantic alone. Eight years later, Charles Lindbergh won the prize. The publicity about his daring flight, combined with his good looks and charming personality, set off a dramatic increase in interest in learning how to fly and willingness among Americans to be passengers on airliners.

The Ansari X Prize of $10 million for the first vehicle to carry three people 100 kilometers above the earth twice in two weeks led to more than $110 million invested by different competitors before it was finally won by the late Paul Allen and Burt Rutan.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) offered a series of $1 million and $2 million prizes for autonomous vehicles crossing the desert.  It could be argued that these small prizes were the beginning of the development of autonomous vehicle maturation. Their long-term economic impact is tens of thousands of times the cost of the initial prizes.

Prizes maximize the freedom for entrepreneurs, inventors, and people with unusual approaches and backgrounds to compete with minimum bureaucratic interference. Most government contracts pay for process. Prizes pay for achievement.

When Elon Musk tweeted that he supported the prize concept, we felt the time had come to try to get the Trump administration to endorse this parallel approach.

We are not suggesting the traditional approach be changed in any way. The NASA bureaucracy should continue working with its traditional contractors to try to establish a permanent settlement on the moon and then on Mars.

However, we are suggesting that by having a modest $2 billion prize (about the cost of one launch with the Space Launch System) it might be possible to have entrepreneurs, like Musk (whose Falcon rockets at SpaceX are the most successful reusable rockets in history) and Jeff Bezos (who already puts $1 billion a year of his own money into Blue Origin developing reusable rockets) step up to the plate and get the job done much faster and cheaper than traditional bureaucracy.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t cost anything — because no prize will be paid.

If it does work, it will save tens of billions of dollars.

We think it’s worth a try.

Newt Gingrich (@NewtGingrich) served as speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995-99.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.