Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Apollo Astronauts Attack Obama

In a joint opinion column published in Florida Today, Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan attack the Obama administration's human space flight policies.

It's a shameful spin of disinformation that distorts the history behind how President Kennedy came to propose the Moon program, falsely claims that all was well with Constellation until it "fell behind schedule" due to "congressionally authorized funding falling victim to Office of Management and Budget cuts, earmarks and other unexpected financial diversions," and overlooks that Congress approved cancellation of Constellation, as no President has the authority to cancel a program mandated by Congress.

They claim:

Obama’s advisers, in searching for a new and different NASA strategy with which the president could be favorably identified, ignored NASA’s operational mandate and strayed widely from President Kennedy’s vision and the will of the American people.


Obviously the three have never read the National Aeronautics and Space Act, "NASA's operational mandate" as they call it. Nowhere does the Act require NASA to fly people in space, to explore other worlds or even to own its rockets.

They claim that Obama "strayed widely from President Kennedy's vision." So what?! Kennedy's "vision" was to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s and return him safely to the Earth. Mission accomplished. Why should we be shackled to an obsolete "vision" that has no relevance in the modern era where we collaborate with our former Russian rivals?

And as for "the will of the American people," time and again polls have shown that national "will" is quite tepid for a government human space flight program, with many preferring it be privatized.

I'm grateful to these three astronauts for their service to our country. But such lies and distortions only tarnish their legacy in my mind.

UPDATE May 26, 2011 — Two responses to the May 25 editorial by Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan.

Presidential Science Advisor John P. Holdren and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden write in USA Today that the three got their facts wrong on "how we got here":

The Obama administration inherited a space program in disarray after eight years of mismatch between vision and budgets, and decades of underinvestment in R&D on the technologies that long-duration crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit will require.

The course correction that the White House has developed in concert with NASA and Congress will preserve the $100 billion International Space Station as the orbiting science lab and technology test-bed we need to prepare for the next steps in space. It will shorten the gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the restoration of a U.S. capability to carry our own astronauts into orbit. And it will focus NASA's unparalleled talents on truly visionary goals — developing and using new technologies to send astronauts to an asteroid for the first time, and then moving onward to Mars — rather than spending the bulk of our limited resources to return astronauts to the moon 50 or 60 years after we did that the first time.

Space analyst Rand Simberg writes in the Washington Examiner that the three "don't seem to be familiar with the facts":

I understand these mens' nostalgia for the space program of their glory days, and even sympathize with it. But they need to understand their own history better, and realize why no one has walked on the moon in the almost forty years since Gene Cernan last left boot prints in the dusty regolith. I can only hope that, over time, when dozens and hundreds, even thousands of people are going into space on commercial vehicles in the years to come, and even back to the moon, many at their own expense, they will still be alive to see it and come to regret their misguided attempts to slow down what could have happened earlier with more enlightened policies.

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