Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 17:39 UK

Moon astronauts urge Mars mission

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Neil Armstrong: 'The ultimate peaceful competition'

Two of the astronauts who took part in the first Moon landing 40 years ago have called for renewed efforts to send a manned mission to Mars.

At a rare public reunion of the Apollo 11 crew, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins said Mars instead of the Moon should be the focus of exploration.

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, said the race to get to the Moon had been the ultimate peaceful contest.

He said it was an "exceptional national investment" for the US and ex-USSR.

The trio spoke at an event at Washington DC's National Air and Space Museum to mark the 40th anniversary of their mission.

Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today
Michael Collins
Apollo 11 crew

They are due to meet President Obama at the White House on Monday.

Mr Armstrong told the audience: "It was the ultimate peaceful competition: USA vs USSR.

"I'll not assert that it was a diversion which prevented a war, nevertheless it was a diversion.

"Eventually, it provided a mechanism for engendering co-operation between former adversaries. In that sense, among others, it was an exceptional national investment for both sides."

Fellow astronaut Mr Aldrin spoke of the inspiration provided by then-President John F Kennedy which led to the "betterment of America, and ultimately the ending of the Cold War".

"Apollo 11 is a symbol of what a great nation and a great people can do if we work hard, work together and have strong leaders with vision and determination," he said.

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Man's first crossing to the Red Planet should be undertaken as a team effort
Yvonne Miranthis, Cyprus

But he also pushed for a mission to Mars: "The best way to honour and remember all those who were part of the Apollo programme is to follow in our footsteps; to boldly go again on a new mission of exploration."

Mr Collins, who circled the Moon alone while Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin walked on it, said Mars was more interesting than the Moon.

"Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today."

He urged further exploration, saying: "I worry that the current emphasis on returning to the Moon will cause us to become ensnared in a technological briar patch needlessly delaying for decades the exploration of Mars - a much more worthwhile destination."

Other Nasa astronauts gave a news conference at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC on Monday.

Eugene Cernan, who was the last astronaut to step off the Moon, concurred with the Apollo 11 astronauts urging a new focus on Mars.

My glass has been half empty for three decades at least. Hopefully, we can turn that around because what we did then is do-able again
Eugene Cernan, former Nasa astronaut

"We need to go back to the Moon, we need to learn a little bit more about what we think we know already, we need to establish bases, put new telescopes there, get prepared to go to Mars. The ultimate goal, truly, is to go to Mars," he told journalists.

Mr Cernan said that when he came back from the Moon in 1972, he believed that Nasa would mount a return mission to the lunar surface by 1980 and a manned mission to Mars by the turn of the century.

"My glass has been half empty for three decades at least. Hopefully, we can turn that around because what we did then is do-able again," he said.

"I think the next major goal is not to spend three days, or three weeks or three months on the Moon, but to have you folks, or your kids, or your grand-kids sit here and talk to a group of guys who can tell you what it was like to go to Mars."

Buzz Aldrin (AP)
Buzz Aldrin said the Moon should not be used as a testing ground for Mars

But Mr Aldrin disagreed with the view that astronauts should test capabilities for a long-duration flight on the Moon before attempting a journey to Mars.

"Why go to the most difficult place to do that? Why not do it on the International Space Station," he said.

Mr Aldrin added: "One day, we are going to send some people to the surface of Mars. And if we think we're going to send them there for a year-and-a-half and then bring them back, and then send another group there for a year-and-a-half and bring them back, Washington will find another way to spend that money.

"That's unless we have declared our objective is an increasing, permanent space settlement."

The US space agency's currently stated aim is to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. But that vision is under review, along with the space vehicles that would get them there.

Nasa is due to retire its space shuttles next year and replace them with the Orion spacecraft, an Apollo-like capsule that would launch on a new rocket called Ares 1.

Another rocket, Ares V, would have the capability to launch heavy payloads - service and cargo modules - that would be needed to service Moon missions.

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