The retired NASA chief who sent the first American astronaut into space has said the agency should give up on Mars and focus on putting another astronaut on the Moon.
Chris Kraft, who was NASA's first ever flight director before becoming a senior manager on the Apollo programme – the US project dedicated to "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" – slammed the American government for focusing on schemes to intercept an asteroid or send a team to Mars.
Rather than focusing on flash missions with no obvious benefits, the space supremo said, NASA should focus on exploiting the opportunities available on the Moon.
He was particularly critical of the space agency's efforts to build a new type of rocket called the Space Launch System, which NASA claims will be instrumental in any future space missions.
Kraft said it was "a tragedy" to waste cash on developing a brand new rocket, rather than just using proven technology which has already been designed.
"Congress is already saying what NASA is doing is wrong," Kraft told The Houston Chronicle. "They're saying they don't like the asteroid mission. Most in Congress want to see NASA go back to the moon. So do nearly all of the scientific and technical organizations in the world.
"There's no practical reason for going to Mars. But there is a practical reason for going to the moon. And furthermore, if you really want to go somewhere, get out of this solar system."
Kraft, who also oversaw NASA's first human orbital flight and its first ever spacewalk, claimed there were clear benefits to landing more humans on the Moon.
He added: "There's no reason why you couldn't set up a factory on the moon to build solar panels. You could provide enough electrical power on the Moon from solar cells, and eventually you could supply enough power for half the people on Earth with a solar cell farm on the moon." ®