Apollo Astronauts Blast Today's NASA

It was a gathering of grumpy old men Monday morning in Washington, D.C., as a panel of retired Apollo astronauts took turns criticizing America's current space program.

The International Space Station, which has cost $100 billion, is "almost a white elephant," said Jim Lovell, who flew on both Apollo 8 and Apollo 13, according to the Washington Post.

"Until we can really get a return on our investment on that particular project, then it was money wasted," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon with Apollo 17, pointed out that the station, only nearing completion now, will be sent to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere in 2016 because NASA hasn't got the money to keep it up past that year.

"Tell me who planned that out?" he acidly wondered.

Lovell, Cernan, Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and four other Apollo vets gathered at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.

If NASA, and the American public, had expected grandfatherly reassurance, they were disappointed.

The U.S. public feels "it is too much to invest 0.6 percent of the federal budget" on NASA, said Walt Cunningham, who piloted the Apollo 7 lunar module. "That is idiotic, in my opinion."

"The investment that we made back in the 1960s was paid back," Cunningham continued. "You got the return on the investment for the next 30 years. It was a driver of technology that really helped make us the leading, driving economic force of the world."

Most of the men expressed disappointment that no one's gone to Mars yet, or even gone back to the moon.

"To me, exploration is going someplace that you haven't been before," observed Aldrin.

But Apollo 15 commander David Scott, the first man to drive a rover on the moon, pointed out that fiscal realities trumped idealism.

"It's very expensive. It costs about two jillion dollars, whatever," he said. "We have to find a reason to go to Mars that will continue the funding."

• Click here to read the rest of this story in the Washington Post.

• Click here for Reuters' take.

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