Wilbur Ross on space race: We want to turn the moon into a gas station

  • Wilbur Ross says the future of commercial space projects depends on colonizing the moon.
  • "I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space," the Commerce secretary says.
  • Ross has emerged as the point man for updating the federal regulations around space travel.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Thursday the future of commercial space projects depends on colonizing the moon.

"I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space," Ross told "Squawk Box." "The plan is to break down the ice [there] into hydrogen and oxygen, use those as the fuel propellant."

Rockets would not need as much thrust leaving Earth if they only had to get to the moon, he said. "Then at the moon, you have very low gravity so you don't need so much thrust to go from the moon to Mars, for example, or another asteroid."

Ross, a former private-equity investor with more than 55 years experience, has emerged as the point man for promoting commercial space projects. President Donald Trump has previously emphasized federal efforts to spur private space projects.

The Trump administration is also pushing to get Americans back to the moon. Additionally, the administration announced plans earlier this month to have private entities take over operations in low Earth orbit from the International Space Station.

On Thursday, Ross said the Trump administration would try to deregulate space quickly, adding "the pace of regulatory change has to match the pace of technological change."

Ross also spoke on space pioneer and billionaire Elon Musk. The SpaceX and Tesla chief recently launched a cherry red Tesla Roadster into space on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.

"It was really quite an amazing thing," Ross recalled. "At the end of it, you have that little red Tesla hurdling off to an orbit around the sun and the moon."

There will be "rules to the road" in Space, Ross argued. "There needs to be. There need to be means for policing, if you will, the debris in space. That's one of the big problems. And as more and more launches occur, more and more satellites reach the end of their life, that's going to be a problem we have to deal with."

— CNBC's Michael Sheetz contributed to this report.

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