The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has named former Apollo astronaut Thomas P. Stafford to head a wide-ranging hunt for ideas that will help the United States get to Mars faster and more cheaply than the schemes on its drawing boards.

NASA's exploration plan has been criticized as too costly and conservative by Vice President Quayle's national space council, which advises the president on space policy.

Stafford, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, will lead the Synthesis Group, which is to recommend to NASA administrator Richard H. Truly two or more "significantly different" alternatives for human exploration of the moon and Mars.

The NASA outreach program "will leave no stone unturned to reach out to the very best and brightest in our nation," in government, industry, academia and elsewhere, Truly said in announcing the Stafford appointment. The Rand Corp. will screen general submissions. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics also is preparing a study for NASA based on ideas from its 40,000 members.

The space agency also announced that astronaut-astronomer Steven A. Hawley, 38, will become associate director of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., July 29. A veteran of three shuttle flights and 412 hours in space, Hawley flew aboard the shuttle Discovery in April, operating the robot arm that released the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.