Last Man on Moon and Space Policy Expert Dismayed at State of U.S. Human Spaceflight Program

Last Man on Moon and Space Policy Expert Dismayed at State of U.S. Human Spaceflight Program

Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Dr. John Logsdon, the “dean” of space policy experts and an authority on John F. Kennedy’s role in the Apollo program, agree that the U.S. human spaceflight program today is in disarray.

In separate op-eds today and at a lecture this evening sponsored by the National Air and Space Museum at its Udvar-Hazy Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s “moon speech,” Cernan and Logsdon painted a picture of a space program “on a mission to nowhere” as Cernan described it.

At the lecture, Cernan made clear that he never thought that he would be the “last man on the Moon” and resists the characterization. He considers himself the last man on the Moon “in the 20th century” or, even more optimistically, the “most recent man on the Moon.” Describing his thoughts as he climbed the ladder into the Lunar Excursion Module to take him back to lunar orbit and then back home, he said he felt as though he was sitting on “God’s front porch” as he looked back at Earth. The experience was “just too beautiful to have happened by accident.”

Those comments followed a heartfelt commentary on the current state of the space program, where he believes the U.S. has “ceded the leadership in space” grasped from the Soviet Union during the 1960’s. Decrying the imminent loss of a U.S. capability to launch people into space — only one more space shuttle mission remains and what lies beyond is uncertain — Cernan sanguinely predicted that “wiser heads” would prevail in Washington.

Logsdon recounted the key points of his new book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, emphasizing that JFK was not a space visionary, but a President coping with Cold War realities. In his op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel today, Logsdon suggested that JFK could be a role model for President Obama in remaining closely involved in space program decisions. “If President Obama hopes for a positive space legacy, he needs to emulate John Kennedy; without sustained presidential leadership, NASA will continue to lack the focus required for a space effort producing acknowledged international leadership and national pride in what the United States accomplishes,” Logsdon wrote.

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