WASHINGTON – NASA's new boss said Tuesday he will be "incredibly disappointed" if people aren't on Mars — or venturing somewhere beyond it — in his lifetime.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., who's 62, said his ultimate goal isn't just Mars — it's anywhere far from Earth.
"I did grow up watching Buck Rogers, and Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars," Bolden said in an interview with The Associated Press. "In my lifetime, I will be incredibly disappointed if we have not at least reached Mars."
That appears to be a shift from the space policy set in motion by the Bush administration, which proposed first returning to the moon by 2020 and then eventually going to Mars a decade or two later. Bolden didn't rule out using the moon as a stepping stone to Mars and beyond. But he talked more about Mars than the moon as NASA was still celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing.
Bolden said NASA and other federal officials had too many conflicting views about how to get to Mars, including the existing Constellation project begun under President George W. Bush. That project calls for returning to the moon first, with a moon rocket design that Bolden's predecessor called "Apollo on steroids." NASA has already spent $6.9 billion on that plan.
"We cannot continue to survive on the path that we are on right now," Bolden told NASA employees in a televised speech earlier Tuesday.
A new independent commission is reviewing that plan and alternatives to it.
Bolden said in an interview that his main job over the next few months will be to champion an "agreed-upon compromise strategy to get first to Mars and then beyond. And we don't have that yet."
Bolden met with President Barack Obama on Monday, and some experts said he seems to be signaling a refocusing of NASA's general exploration plan.
A former astronaut, Bolden also vowed to extend the life of the international space station beyond 2016, the year the Bush administration planned to abandon it.
As one way to help fund a new moon rocket, the Bush administration had proposed not paying for the space station beyond 2015 — even as astronauts are currently in space building additions to it. And just last week, the space station program manager told The Washington Post that the plan was to guide the $100 billion station into the ocean at the end of its life.
"We have an incredible asset in the international space station that we need to preserve," Bolden said. The idea, he said, is to make the station work to further "our strong desire to leave the planet and leave low Earth orbit."