In an interview for the new CNN podcast “Apollo 11: Beyond the Moon,” Collins was asked about Trump’s space exploration strategy.
Collins quipped, “I don’t think he’s too much aware of Mars. Maybe he doesn’t understand that there is a planet Mars.”
Trump’s past comments about NASA have been about focusing on a return to the moon first.
Collins — the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 moon landing mission in 1969 — said he recognizes that many experts see the moon as a gateway expedition to Mars. But he holds the minority view and believes Mars should be the priority.
“I’d prefer what I would call the John F. Kennedy express method,” Collins said. “I think if we want to go to Mars, we should so declare and go — the same way President Kennedy described the forthcoming lunar landing.”
Collins has been fascinated by the prospect of a Mars landing for decades. “I used to joke that, after the flight of Apollo 11, that NASA sent me to the wrong place,” he said on the podcast.
He also commented that NASA — the acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration — should be renamed the National Aeronautics and Mars Administration.
“I’m still looking for Mars, and I’m thinking it’s getting closer,” Collins said. “We’re getting people like Jeff Bezos and [Elon] Musk who are throwing billions into the kitty to add to what’s there from federal appropriations. So I think we’re getting to the point where we have more of a ‘can do’ as well as a ‘will do’ aspect of going to Mars.”
At the end of his first year in office, Trump held a White House signing ceremony and authorized NASA to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars.”
Vice President Pence has also discussed these plans with an emphasis on a return to the moon.
At a National Space Council Meeting in March, Pence said it is “the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.”
Some Trump administration skeptics have raised their eyebrows about the five-year plan, since that would fall toward the end of a second Trump term.
During a recent trip to Japan, Trump brought up the topic again, but didn’t talk about the timeline. He did say that said the US and Japan would collaborate on space missions. “We’ll be going to the moon. We’ll be going to Mars very soon,” Trump said.
Collins hopes so. He spoke on “Apollo 11: Beyond the Moon” about the thrill and the challenge of a long manned journey to the red planet.
The moon landing was “kind of child’s play” by comparison, said Collins.