Enough with the Moon – now let's fly to Mars

Apollo 11 astronauts use 40th anniversary to call for a new age of space exploration

If Neil Armstrong spent just 11 seconds talking about walking on the Moon during a rare public appearance in Washington late on Sunday – on the eve of yesterday's 40th anniversary of the first Apollo landing – it was surely more than modesty. More likely, it was because he thought Nasa's future was more important than its past.

Still, lunar nostalgia has its place, especially this week. Buzz Aldrin, who followed Armstrong on to the Moon's surface on 20 July 1968 and who was beside him again at the National Air and Space Museum on Sunday, recalled that their mission had been "a symbol of what a great nation and a great people can do if we work hard and work together".

Armstrong said that the space race that had been played out during the height of the Cold War and which culminated in his walking on the Moon was "the ultimate peaceful competition: USA versus USSR. It did allow both sides to take the high road with the objectives of science and learning and exploration".

But Armstrong, Aldrin and the other still surviving Apollo alumni have had something more urgent to say these past few days: don't let the spirit of Apollo die. There are more bold steps to be taken and more frontiers to be broken.

It is a message that was repeated at an anniversary press conference in Washington yesterday and carried a few hours later by Aldrin, Armstrong and the third Apollo 11 crew member, Michael Collins, into the White House, to the man who might have the power to reinvigorate (and sufficiently fund) Nasa: Barack Obama.

These pioneers of space exploration are anxious that the new President of the United States borrow something of the nothing-is-impossible bravado that President John F Kennedy showed when he first vowed in 1961 to send a man to the Moon.

They want him to set just such a goal again, but this time with a new destination: the Red Planet.

"Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today," Collins said. "I'd like to see Mars become the focus, just as John F Kennedy focused on the Moon."

Aldrin told an audience of nearly 500 at the museum on Sunday night: "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."

He repeated his call for missions to Mars yesterday.

"There may be life on Mars and if there is, it's damn sure we ought to go there and look at it," Aldrin, 79, told reporters. "When we get there, if we don't find any life on Mars, from that point on there will be life on Mars because we'll bring it there, whether it's germs and leftover urine bags, whatever it is."

Eugene Cernan, a member of the Apollo 17 mission and the last man on the Moon, concurred. He moreover displayed disappointment that a Mars visit had not already happened. Recalling that the Apollo programme was ended in the 1970s, he said: "I really believed we'd be back on the Moon by the end of that decade and on our way to Mars by the turn of the century. My glass has been half empty for three decades at least.

"We need to go back to the Moon," Cernan said, accompanied at a news conference by half a dozen other Apollo astronauts. "We need to learn a bit more about what we think we know already, we need to establish bases, put new telescopes on the Moon, get prepared to go to Mars. Because the ultimate goal is to go to Mars."

Returning to the Moon is indeed on the Nasa calendar, at least in theory. While the current Space Shuttle fleet faces final retirement next year, the intention for now is to develop the new Constellation space programme that is meant to establish a lunar base by 2020 as a stepping stone to voyages beyond, including to Mars.

That, at least, was the course that the Bush administration set. Since Mr Obama came to office, however, a new review has been set in train for Nasa.

Though Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins were surely welcomed as national heroes into the Oval Office yesterday, they will have met a President who is under extraordinary pressure to find ways not to spend more federal dollars. Universal healthcare coverage interests Mr Obama more than the universe.

At least Nasa on this anniversary was able to say that it had men in space. Astronauts David Wolf and Thomas Marshburn were due to conduct a space walk to attach tools to the International Space Station.

Less glorious, however, was the Shuttle crew's other task for the day: fixing a blocked toilet.

Where are they now? The Apollo astronauts

Buzz Aldrin, 79 Apollo 11: An author and lecturer, he also heads the ShareSpace Foundation to promote possibilities for private space exploration – including space tourism with eventual hotel accommodation on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong, 78 Apollo 11: Famous for his reluctance to embrace his hero image, he has nonetheless made occasional public appearances. After leaving Nasa he taught engineering and helped in the Challenger disaster inquiry.

James Lovell, 81 Apollo 13: A highlight of post-Nasa life may have been consulting on Apollo 13, the film that had him played by Tom Hanks. He opened a restaurant in Illinois, Lovell's Steakhouse, and worked in telecommunications.

Alan Bean, 77 Apollo 12: 40 years after walking on the Moon, he is still reliving the moment – on canvas. Bean is a painter who has been exhibited in Washington and whose works try to capture the astronauts' experience.

Frank Borman, 81. Apollo 8: Staying aloft, he left Nasa to become chairman of the now defunct Eastern Airlines. He was a goodwill ambassador to Europe and Asia for President Nixon. Now rebuilds and flies antique aircraft.

Michael Collins, 78. Apollo 11: He became director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum which hosted a reunion between him, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on Sunday. Also wrote a book about the mission, Liftoff.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz