Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 and the last man to walk on the moon, voiced his support yesterday for the US programme to put a man on Mars.

Speaking as he arrived at the show, he stressed the need to make NASA "relevant" and joked that the average car now has more technology under the hood than he had to get to the moon.

Now 70, the former astronaut has long been a critic of NASA, believing it "lacks focus or an agenda".

"It's not so much about putting a man on the Moon again or on Mars but about the direction in which NASA moves. For 25 years its really done nothing."

He says his passion is shared by President Bush with whom he has met to discuss the administration's plans for a manned Mars mission. "This was not a spur-of-the-moment announcement - it has been in the planning for 8-10 months," he says.

He acknowledges that the Mars programme will be, as all space projects are, a "high risk" one. "We will need to share the intellectual and financial resources of the rest of the world."


He believes there is a role for private finance in the International Space Station project and that commercial access, taxi services, leasing and even tourism are part of the future landscape.

Perhaps controversially, he believes the deaths of fellow astronauts in the space shuttles Columbia and Challenger and earlier in the Apollo projects is a "price worth paying" in the drive to push the boundaries of space.

"I lost three colleagues before we got the Apollo off the ground. As a result we rebuilt the spacecraft with much greater redundancy. If we hadn't lost those guys and asked the questions that [accident] posed, we would I believe have had a major catastrophe on our way to or on the moon.

"We learned a lot from the loss of the Challenger crew. We need to understand not just how the technology works but how people respond under pressure."

Capt Cernan logged 566h and 15min in space, of which more than 73h were spent on the surface of the Moon.


Source: Flight Daily News