Armstrong, Cernan and Young Continue Opposition to Obama Plan

Armstrong, Cernan and Young Continue Opposition to Obama Plan

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon and commander of the Apollo 11 mission that took him there, said he found “mystifying” comments made by President Obama on April 15 that there is no need to go back to the Moon because “we’ve already been there.” During the second part of Wednesday’s House Science and Technology Committee hearing on the President’s plan for NASA’s human spaceflight program, Mr. Armstrong was accompanied by Captain Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, and Mr. A. Thomas Young, Lockheed Martin (Ret.). All three had previously testified against the Obama plan, and they did so again.

In his statement, Mr. Armstrong wondered what effect a similar attitude would have had on revisiting places like the New World or west of the Mississippi, stressing that there is “much to be learned on the Moon.” It offers “many of the challenges” in flying beyond low Earth orbit, but is close enough for a fast trip back to Earth in case of an emergency, being only three days away. Returning to the Moon is part of the three priorities Armstrong believes should guide NASA’s human spaceflight plans:

  • Maintaining American leadership in space
  • Guaranteeing access to space, and
  • Pursuing exploration

Captain Cernan criticized the FY2011 budget request for not allocating “one penny…to support [human] space exploration,” and focusing instead on technology development. He called it “a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.'” He is skeptical that the technology investments will result in any “game-changing,” arguing that the investment made in the Ares I/Orion system should continue and the shuttle should keep flying until that system is available. He agrees that the long term goal of human spaceflight should be Mars and that a date for achieving that goal is not important as long as the program moves in that direction, but apparently disagrees on the intermediate steps. He argues that as Ares I/Orion evolves, “that’s when we decide the exploration plan to follow.” Interestingly, his comments sounded similar to the original Obama plan that did not include timelines or destinations.

Mr. Young restated his opposition to the commercial crew option because he does not believe industry can conduct such a program by itself. As a veteran of both government and industry jobs, he is adamant that the two must work together, with government bringing its continuity of experience and industry providing the implementation capability. He described the success of the recent test of the Orion launch abort system as “the best of NASA” and “the best of industry” working together. He believes that industry alone, lacking NASA’s continuity of expertise, will probably fail in its attempt to develop commercial crew vehicles. The panel agreed that following the commercial crew route would result in an “atrophying” of the aerospace workforce and lead to the United States abdicating both its only crew access to space and, consequently, its leadership in this field with negative national security implications.

To a direct question over whether they believed the President’s plan to be executable, Mr. Young said “no,” Captain Cernan said “absolutely not,” and Mr. Armstrong said it would be “highly unlikely.”

When asked about his opinion of the Augustine Committee Report, Mr. Armstrong said he believed it to be “very good,” but he thought the conclusion that Constellation was “unexecutable” was based on the FY2010 budget, which he said was substantially smaller than either the FY2009 or FY2011 budgets. He suggested that if “the ground rules had been different, their findings would have been different,” adding that he believed this was a “built-in barrier to making … an equitable judgment.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the only vocal advocate of President Obama’s plan on the committee, expressed his admiration for the panel of witnesses, but asked committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) if there could be another hearing at which witnesses in favor of the plan would have an opportunity to present their views. Rep. Gordon reminded Rep. Rohrabacher that NASA Administrator Bolden had just testified to the committee for more than two hours, but also said that this would not be the last hearing before the committee puts forward a NASA authorization bill.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.