Neil Armstrong criticises new space plan in Congress

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PostThu May 13, 2010 7:21 pm » by Savwafair2012


In a rare public appearance, moonwalker Neil Armstrong warned Congress on Wednesday that the US risks losing its leadership in space flight under President Obama's new NASA plan.

Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the first man to walk on the moon expressed worry that the US would have no means of its own to get astronauts into space for a long time to come.

For years, the country could find itself "limited to buying passage to the International Space Station from Russia", he said. "[It] will be prohibited from travelling to other destinations in low-Earth orbit such as the Hubble space telescope."

"If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is simply allowed to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered," he said. The remarks echo those in an open letter he sent to the president in April.

Dreams deferred
President Obama's proposed 2011 budget for NASA would cancel the agency's work on the Ares I rocket, intended to ferry astronauts to orbit after the space shuttle's planned retirement at the end of 2010.

Instead, the new plan would put billions towards helping private companies develop their own rockets and spacecraft, which could then serve as taxis to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

But Armstrong cautioned that it would likely be much more expensive and take much longer than space industry companies claim for them to develop such space taxis.

"The most experienced rocket engineers with whom I have spoken believe that it will require many years and substantial investment to reach the necessary level of safety and reliability," he said.

'Pledge to mediocrity'
Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the moon and a co-author of the April letter to Obama, spoke of the new plan in harsher terms, calling it a "blueprint for a mission to nowhere".

He said the new plan lacked focus, is short on details, and does not commit enough money to support human space exploration. He expressed concern that the development of a heavy-lift rocket needed for exploring space beyond low-Earth orbit – which is deferred until 2015 under the new budget – might never come to pass.

"Now is the time to overrule this administration's pledge to mediocrity," he said.

Too late
But former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, who chaired a blue-ribbon panel that in 2009 reviewed NASA's human space flight plans, defended the change in course.

Continuing with the development of the Ares I rocket would be very expensive and the rocket itself would be developed too late to be of much use for taking astronauts to the International Space Station, he said. The review panel has previously estimated that the rocket would be ready only a year or two at most before the station was retired.

He urged that whatever plan is ultimately adopted be properly funded. "Otherwise I think we'll all be back here 10 years from now having the same discussion," he said.
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