Bill Anders, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 in 1968, does not think that sending men to the surface of Mars is a good idea.
Apollo 8 Pilot Criticizes NASA's Plan To Land Humans On Mars
The 85-year-old former astronaut said in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live that he is a "big supporter" of unmanned missions mainly because they are cheaper. However, he thinks the idea of sending people to the red planet is "almost ridiculous," citing the lack of public support for what would be very expensive manned launches.
"What's the imperative? What's pushing us to go to Mars?" He asked. "I don't think the public is that interested."
NASA is currently planning to send humans back to the lunar surface 46 years after Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon. Eventually, the U.S. space agency hopes to send astronauts for the first time to the surface of the red planet.
Anders is also critical of NASA, saying that it has turned into "a jobs program." He pointed out that the U.S. space agency could not get into the moon today because it is "so ossified."
He added that the focus on near-Earth orbit was a mistake and the space shuttle program, which ended in 2011, did not live up to expectations.
"I think the space shuttle was a serious error. It hardly did anything except have an exciting launch," he stated. "The space station is only there because you had a shuttle, and vice-versa. Nasa really mismanaged the manned programme since the late lunar landings."
His colleague, Frank Borman, commander of the Apollo 8, was a lot more open to manned space exploration, but drew the line at supporting billionaires Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). He said that a lot of hype about Mars, including the possibility of putting human colonies on the surface of the red planet, "nonsense."
50 Years Since Apollo 8
The interview comes a few days after the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first manned spaceflight to leave Earth's orbit and fly around the moon.
On the morning of Dec. 21, 1968, Anders and Borman, along with Jim Lovell, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center atop the Saturn V rocket. They completed 10 orbits around the moon, spending 20 hours in orbit.
They returned safely to Earth on Dec. 27, 1968.
From the mission, the astronauts captured one of the most iconic photographs of the space age: the Earthrise.