The final frontier. Gingrich wants 13,000 people to live on the moon one day and for it to become the 51st state of America Reuters

Frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich. has pledged to have the first permanent base on the moon if he is elected president.

All four remaining candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, are vigorously campaigning in Florida, the home state of the Nasa Kennedy Space Center , which has been the home of every manned space mission since 1961.

It was former President John F. Kennedy, who made a famous speech during the space race in the sixties where he declared that America would go to the moon first which it finally did in August 1969. Gingrich, speaking to an overflow crowd gathered on Florida's space coast, said that he wants to develop a robust commercial space industry in line with the airline boom of the 1930s.

The current president, Barack Obama, repealed much of the Nasa funding ahead of the 2012 budget blueprint much to the disappointment of many who support the space programme.

John Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute in Washington, said: "It should not compromise what Nasa wants to do but it certainly would slow it down," said Logsdon, an independent consultant to the Obama administration.

But Gingrich claimed that he wants the private sector to help pay for the ambitious plans.

Gingrich, who is leading the polls for the first time since breaking through in December, was also keen to expand exploration to Mars.