NASA and other spaceflight programs worldwide should focus on putting people on Mars, not the moon, an advocacy group for space exploration said in a new plan announced today.

"The U.S. landed humans on the Moon nearly 40 years ago," said Louis Friedman, executive director of The Planetary Society. "Returning to the moon has not sufficiently excited the public and will require resources that will be badly needed elsewhere in the space program."

The plan, "Beyond the Moon: A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration in the 21st Century," included four key elements:

  • Focusing on Mars as the driving goal of human spaceflight.
  • Deferring putting humans back on the moon until the costs of the interplanetary transportation system and shuttle replacement are largely paid.
  • Accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations.
  • Achieving a step-by-step approach of new achievements in interplanetary flight, including a human mission to a near-Earth object.

The plan calls for international cooperation to minimize the costs of the plan to any one country and to increase public support, particularly given concerns over the current economic crisis.

"This is clearly a time of national and international economic uncertainty. Whatever the long-term impact of this turmoil may be on the U.S. national budget, we believe that a strong, sustainable space program must remain an important national and international priority," said planetary scientist Jim Bell, the Society's president.

SPACE.com reported the expected plan earlier this week.

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin commented on the plan: "U.S. landings on the moon should be deferred so that they can be part of an international base on the moon preparing the way for permanent settlement of Mars."

The idea for the roadmap came from a workshop held at Stanford University in February. Input was gathered from TPS members and the public in town hall meetings around the world.

The roadmap is to be presented to the Obama Administration and Congress.