Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two people to set foot on the moon, would like to see the United States train an international partnership to return to the moon while it sets a national goal of getting to Mars.
"I don't think we get our money's worth out of investing and doing something that other people can do," Aldrin, 79, said in an interview with Discovery News.
Aldrin and crewmate Neil Armstrong were members of the Apollo 11 crew, which landed on the moon 40 years ago this month. NASA plans to return sending astronauts to the moon beginning in 2020.
Aldrin plans to lobby the presidential panel reviewing the U.S. human space program for a different plan, one that puts the spotlight on breaking new ground rather than repeating past exploits.
However, Aldrin contends that the moon should not be ignored as a destination point. He would like to see the U.S. oversee an international team of lunar explorers, which includes China. A permanent presence on the moon would not be necessary, he argues, unless there are commercial markets for lunar products and services.
"If there are some developments that can come from human activity on the moon that justifies that expense, then I think we will pursue them. I don't see that those warrant our expenditures to get there 50 years after we did before," Aldrin said.
Rather, the goal of the U.S. human space initiatives should be to expand long-duration life support capabilities, Aldrin said.
He envisions a stepping-stone approach to future expeditions that grow increasingly longer and more complex. Aldrin asserts that he would like to see U.S. astronauts visit an asteroid and build up a base on the Martian moon Phobos before attempting to live on the surface of Mars itself.
"That's a progressive outward sequence of objectives, much like the increasing capabilities of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo program," Aldrin said.
NASA is nearing completion of a $100 billion space station in low-Earth orbit, which it operates in partnership with Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. Scientists plan to use the complex to develop and test technologies and systems for long-duration space flight.
"We really need to learn to decrease our dependence on the ground before we can pull away for two to three years for a voyage to Mars and back," station flight engineer Michael Barratt said during an inflight interview.
Added crewmate Frank De Winne, with the European Space Agency, "I strongly believe that any nation that stops exploring is a nation that stops progressing."
© 2012 Discovery Channel