Sunday, July 26, 2009

Moon astronauts urge Mars mission

Monday, 20 July 2009
Moon astronauts urge Mars mission
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.

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.

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."

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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