Retired NASA astronaut Bill Anders has said that sending humans to Mars is a “stupid” idea which is verging on “ridiculous.”
In comments made to BBC Radio 5 Live, Anders—who was one of the first three humans to leave Earth’s orbit and travel to and orbit the Moon as a crewmember on Apollo 8 in 1968–explained that he still supported cheaper unmanned programs, such as NASA’s InSight Lander, but was more sceptical of expensive manned missions.
“What’s the imperative?” he told the BBC. “What’s pushing us to go to Mars? I don’t think the public is that interested.”
NASA is ramping up its space exploration plans and has set its sights on putting humans on the Moon by the end of the next decade as a stepping stone to further manned missions to the Martian surface, which could potentially launch in the 2030s.
Anders also criticized NASA, noting the difference between the agency today and the era of the Apollo program. In the 1960s and early 1970s, six Apollo missions successfully landed astronauts on the Moon and brought them safely back to Earth.
“NASA couldn’t get to the Moon today,” he said. “They’re so ossified. [It] has turned into a jobs program, many of the centers are mainly interested in keeping busy and you don’t see the public support other than they get the workers their pay and their congressmen get re-elected.”
Anders was also critical of the path that NASA took after the Apollo program ended in 1972, although he admits his views don’t make him popular with staff at his former employer.
“I think the space shuttle was a serious error. It hardly did anything except have an exciting launch, but it never lived up to its promise,” he said. “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. I think NASA’s lucky to have what they’ve got—which is still hard, in my mind, to justify. I’m not a very popular guy at NASA for saying that, but that’s what I think.”
Among NASA’s unmanned Mars missions is the InSight robotic lander, which successfully touched down on the Red Planet’s surface on November 26. Since then, the vehicle—which is designed to study the planet’s deep interior—has snapped its first selfie and also recorded the eerie sound of Martian wind, in what was a scientific first.