An American astronaut who was on board the Apollo 8 manned spaceflight mission to the moon in 1968, claimed that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s quest to send a human crew to Mars is ridiculous. Bill Anders, 85, said that he is a big supporter of the unmanned missions to the planet, but told BBC Radio Live 5 that there is no public support for an expensive manned mission.

“What’s the imperative?” he asked. “What’s pushing us to go to Mars? I don’t think the public is that interested.” NASA hopes that the planned manned missions to the planet will help human beings learn skills and develop technology to enable a future landing of many people.

The 1968 Apollo 8 flight was the first human spaceflight to leave Earth’s orbit. However, Anders alleged that the present-day NASA has turned into a “jobs programme”. “NASA couldn’t get to the moon today,” he said. “They’re so ossified... NASA has turned into a jobs programme... many of the centres 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’ Apollo 8 colleague Frank Borman, who commanded the mission, however, told BBC that the solar system needs “robust exploration”. But he expressed skepticism about the plans of Space X founder Elon Musk and Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos to send private missions to Mars. “Musk and Bezos, they’re talking about putting colonies on Mars, that’s nonsense,” he said.

On November 26, NASA’s InSight unmanned space probe landed successfully on Mars, and began to photograph the Red Planet’s landscape. The probe will study the interiors of the planet during a two-year mission.