NASA's plan to replace its three aging space shuttles with Orion capsules to carry astronauts to the moon by 2020 may not justify its $35 billion cost if it stops there, said Aldrin, one of the first humans to set foot on the moon during the apollo 11 landing on July 20, 1969.

Instead, the United States can aid international partners in exploring the moon and free up its own spaceflight resources to develop systems for even more ambitious goals, he told in an interview.

"While the international explorers, with our help, are going to the moon, we can develop the long-duration life support systems for other things," said Aldrin, 79. "Flying by a comet, visiting an asteroid and station-keeping with it."

With an international base on the moon and vital technologies like in-space refueling, Aldrin envisions an ambitious series of expeditions to send astronauts on a deep space mission to visit the asteroid Aphophis when it swings near Earth in 2021. A temporarily manned base on the Mars moon Phobos could follow, he added.

"By that time, we'd be ready to put people in a gradual permanence on Mars by 2031," Aldrin said. "That, in a nutshell, is what I really think we should be doing."

NASA's current transition from the space shuttle to orion is a huge step backward, Aldrin said. The shuttle's may not have lived up to its initial expectations, but its ability to haul tons of cargo to orbit and land on a runway is a capability that should not be lost in order to replace it with something faster and cheaper, he stressed.

"What happens to U.S. space global leadership if everything is going to be done on the cheap and we're not going to think ahead, and we're going back to the moon for some reason that really won't justify the cost of human habitation," he said.

The United States should "do the things that this nation can do and strive toward maintaining globally space leaderships. And that means lifting bodies, runway landers and not going back to the moon, because we've been there," Aldrin added.

While the future of American spaceflight remains to be seen, Aldrin said he takes comfort knowing that the history-making apollo 11 moon landing still resonates today.

"I'm kind of glad it does," he said. "Whatever we do in space is not on the front page unless there's something going wrong or it's highly unusual. And it doesn't capture the budget discussion."

Aldrin and Neil Armstrong spent a day on the lunar surface and just 2 1/2 hours walking outside their Eagle lander. Their crewmate Michael Collins orbited overhead inside the command module Columbia. Five other Apollo moon landings followed.

In the past, Aldrin has frankly recounted the depression and bout with alcoholism that followed his flight aboard Apollo 11.

Now, 40 years after the mission, he said he's matured considerably since the flight - his last space mission and has released a new autobiography "Magnificent Desolation." In a bid to spark interest in spaceflight in today's youth ad children, he rapped about the moonshot with Snoop Dogg and Talib Kewli, and has a new children's book about space exploration.

The Apollo 11 anniversary, he said, is a chance for NASA to remind the American public of the country's technical prowess.

"I do think that it does momentarily keep the public abreast of what we're doing now, and they'll look back," Aldrin said. "Of course it's been a long time, so many people weren't alive when those things happened, and those that were are, I guess, maturing a little bit and look back with a bit of nostalgia."

But the moon, Aldrin added, hasn't changed.

"Well, it still looks about the same when I look at it," Aldrin said. "But I know inside, it sounds kind of trite, that it's really not the stranger that it was. It's somewhat of a friend now because I've been there."

Aldrin said he still vividly remembers that first moonwalk. Armstrong called the view beautiful, but it was so much more. Aldrin, instead, saw what described as magnificent desolation.

"Beautiful, I thought, that's not quite right," he said. "It's magnificent that we're here ... but what a desolate place this was."

He still recalls the apparent stillness.

"No life, no motion, no air. And just the same uniform color of all the dust that reflected light differently depending on the angle of the sun and your view," Aldrin said. "It just wasn't a very welcome place at all."

When you try to take pictures under lower light conditions, you are largely left with one of two options. You can use the flash and get all sorts of unnatural and uneven lighting. You can avoid the flash and get one big blurry mess. Well, a couple of students are coming up with a much better alternative.

Some people are calling it a “dark” flash, whereas others are referring to it as an “invisible” flash. Whatever you choose to call it, the innovation is supposed to provide us with much better photos at night and under other dim lighting conditions.

Hailing from New York University, Dilip Krishnan and Rob Fergus are developing a two-step technique that can be completely automated in regular digital cameras (and maybe even camera phones). The flashbulb has been modified to emit a wider spectrum of light, but it filters out visible light.

The UV and IR filters that are normally present in camera sensors have also been removed. The net result is a picture that looks like an infrared image, similar to the picture you see on the left. The blur is gone and the lighting is even, but it’s the wrong color, right?

An algorithm takes care of that. A second photo is taken immediately after the second one, but without the “dark” flash being used. By doing so, the camera is able to grab the color information from the resulting grainy and shaky pic. Combining the detail from the first pic with the colors of the second, you get the picture on the right.

This sounds like it could be quite a fantastic innovation if it really works as promised, but it almost sounds like the camera has to be dedicated to this purpose. If they can merge the technology with existing tech for “regular” photos, they could have a very lucrative patent on their hands.