Apollo 8 crew (left) Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman in training. (Provided: NASA)
One of the first astronauts to orbit the moon said sending people to Mars would be "stupid."
- Bill Anders says he does not think the public is interested in Mars missions
- The former astronaut says he remains a "big supporter" of unmanned space programs
- Apollo 8's fellow astronaut Frank Borman believes the space missions of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are "nonsense"
Former US astronaut Bill Anders, 85, was the pilot of the lunar module of the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, which completed 10 orbits around the Moon before returning to Earth.
The mission was crucial to clear the way for landing on the Apollo 11 moon seven months later.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Anders insisted he is a "big supporter" of unmanned space programs – putting his success at a low cost – but said the idea of sending human crews to Mars was "almost ridiculous."
Citing the lack of public support for expensive missions involving human crews as the reason for their beliefs, Anders asked, "What is the imperative? What is pushing us to Mars? I do not think the public is so interested."
Despite his central role in the Apollo 8 mission, Anders criticizes the way NASA has evolved – or failed – since the 1960s.
The former astronaut said, "NASA could not get to the moon today. They are so ossified … NASA has turned into a jobs program."
"Many of the centers are primarily interested in staying busy and you do not see public support unless they receive the workers and their congressmen are re-elected."
Admitting that he is not a "very popular guy" because of his views, Anders added, "I think NASA is lucky to have what it has – which is still difficult, in my view, to justify."
The 85-year-old former crew member, Frank Borman, who was the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, took a different tone.
He told the radio station, "I'm not as critical of NASA as Bill. I firmly believe that we need a robust exploration of our solar system and I think man is part of that."
However, Borman traced the line of support to SpaceX founder and entrepreneur Elon Musk and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos who have space missions underway.
Mr. Borman said, "I think there's a lot of hype about Mars that's nonsense."
"Musk and Bezos, they're talking about putting colonies on Mars, that's absurd."
NASA is in the process of planning new human missions to the moon and plans to develop the technology needed to conduct a human landing on Mars in the future.
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