Apollo 11 team looks to Mars

The Apollo 11 astronauts gather for its 40th anniversary of the first Moon walk and plea for exploration of Mars.

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WASHINGTON // The astronauts who first landed on the moon are not dwelling on their small lunar steps. Instead, two of them yesterday urged mankind to take a giant leap to Mars. In one of their few joint public appearances, the crew of Apollo 11 spoke on the eve of the 40th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon, but did not get soggy with nostalgia. They instead spoke about the future and the more distant past.

Today the three astronauts will get another chance to make the pitch for a Mars trip, this time to someone with a little more sway: President Barack Obama. Last night, a packed crowd at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum did not get the intimate details of the Eagle's landing on the moon with little fuel left, or what the moon looked like, or what it felt like to be there. They got the second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin's pitch for Mars. He said the best way to honour the Apollo astronauts "is to follow in our footsteps; to boldly go again on a new mission of exploration".

The first man on the moon Neil Armstrong only discussed Apollo 11 for about 11 seconds. He gave a professorial lecture titled "Goddard, governance and geophysics", looking at the inventions and discoveries that led to his historic "small step for a man" on July 20, 1969. Mr Armstrong said the space race 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."

The Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, who circled the moon alone while Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin walked on it, said the moon was not interesting, but Mars is. "Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today," Mr Collins said. "I'd like to see Mars become the focus, just as John F Kennedy focused on the moon." * AP