Neil Armstrong has urged a return to the moon to train for missions to Mars as the US contemplates the future of its space program following the end of the shuttle era.
The first man to walk on the moon is scheduled to address the US Congress on new directions for NASA in the coming weeks.
He has previously criticized US President Barack Obama for being “poorly advised” on space matters and said it was “well known to all that the American space program is in some chaos at the present time, some disarray.”
“There are multiple opinions on which goals should be the most important and the most pressing,” he told a function in Sydney late on Wednesday.
The US shuttle program came to an end last month with the Atlantis cruising home for a final time.
Critics have assailed NASA because there is no next-generation human space flight mission to replace the shuttle program.
Now 81, Armstrong said the agency had become a “shuttlecock” for the “war of words” between the executive, legislative and congressional arms of US government.
“It’s my belief, given time and careful thought and reasoning, we will eventually reach the right goal. I just hope we do it fairly quickly,” he said.
The normally private and reserved space veteran said Mars should be the next frontier for exploration, but urged more missions to the moon as the vital next step.
“I do favor going to Mars, but I believe it is both too difficult and too expensive with the technology we have available at the current time,” he said. “I favor returning to the moon. We made six landings there and explored areas as small as a city lot, and perhaps as large as a small town. That leaves us some 14 million square miles [36,260,000km2] that we have not explored.”
Armstrong said working on the moon would allow scientists to practice “a lot of the things that you need to do when you are going further out in the solar system,” while maintaining relatively close contact with Mission Control.
Communication is the major problem for trips to Mars, he added, with the relay of a message between Earth and Mars delayed by about 20 minutes.