Neil Armstrong Slams Obama's Space Plan; President Will Defend It Tomorrow

By Andrew Moseman | April 14, 2010 1:09 pm

orionThis week marks the anniversaries of both stunning success and nearly catastrophic failures in human spaceflight—it’s been 49 years since Yuri Gugarin became the first man in space, and 40 years since the life-threatening drama on board Apollo 13. So perhaps it’s fitting that this is the week the fight over the future of NASA comes to a head. Tomorrow, President Obama will defend his new plans for manned spaceflight, which he has changed somewhat after his proposal to cancel the Constellation program was met with a flood of criticism.

When the President announced his budget in January, which came without funding for Constellation and its plans to go back to the moon and beyond, members of Congress had a fit (especially those who represent areas with jobs connected to Constellation).

Former astronauts came out of the woodwork, too, and that list of critics now includes Neil Armstrong. The first moon-walker typically shies away from media controversies, but this week issued an open letter to the President. He writes: “The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope. It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation” [The Times]. Armstrong also writes that if the United States finds itself without spacecraft that can travel to the Earth’s orbit and beyond, our nation will be destined “to become one of second or even third rate stature.”

In response to the criticisms, Obama plans to speak tomorrow on his plans for NASA at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it sounds like some compromises could be in the offing. Ahead of the President’s speech, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver spoke yesterday at the National Space Symposium and announced a restructured plan that potentially could save parts of Constellation, specifically the crew capsule called Orion. The new proposal calls for a variant of the space capsule that could be launched unmanned to station within the next couple of years to serve as a crew lifeboat. Garver said the plan would allow the agency to retain some of its multibillion-dollar investment in the program while reducing U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft currently used as an emergency crew escape capability on the space station [Space News].

And because Armstrong and many other said the President’s plan would leave the United States stuck in low-Earth orbit, White House officials said on Tuesday that Obama wants NASA to begin work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner than envisioned under the canceled Constellation program, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific rocket that will take astronauts deeper into space [Reuters]. Future robotic missions, the White House says, will scout out potential targets for manned missions under the new plan.

We’ll keep you posted on what Obama says tomorrow. In the meantime, his tentative policy shift has impressed some critics. At Bad Astronomy, DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait blogged Neil deGrasse Tyson’s vehement defense of NASA maintaining a bigger, bolder vision of manned space exploration than Obama’s initial plan. In response to the administration’s shift, however, Tyson wrote on Twitter, “Obama’s NASA plans looking better, as of yesterday. A reasonable person responds to reasonable argumnts [Sic].”

80beats: Obama’s NASA Plan Draws Furious Fire; The Prez Promises To Defend His Vision
80beats: Obama’s NASA Budget: So Long, Moon Missions; Hello, Private Spaceflight
80beats: New NASA Rocket May Not Be “Useful,” White House Panel Says
80beats: Presidential Panel: Space Travel Plans Are Broken
Bad Astronomy: Neil Tyson Sounds Off on NASA
Bad Astronomy: President Obama’s NASA Budget Unveiled
Bad Astronomy: Give Space a Chance

Image: NASA

  • nick

    Sorry Mr. Armstrong, you may be the first man on the moon but you don’t have the first clue as to the monetary efficiency of space exploration.

    Not only have we wasted that 10 billion, but every dollar we threw after that idiocy monstrosity they call Constellation would have been wasted as well.

    How do I know? Russia manages to launch quicker and cheaper than us and has done so for quite a long time, yet here we are in 2010 arguing over designing a new, yet still grossly inefficient transport mechanism to get people into space. Why? Because with unlimited government money there is no need for efficiency. With commercial space launches there is every need for efficiency.

    Imagine if NASA had invented the transistor. ^.^

  • cgray

    Second or third rate stature is exactly what Obama wants. It’s exactly what all black Marxist Democrats in this country want. They have a seething hatred for everything American, and would love to see this country brought to its knees. Why nearly half the country can’t see this is mystifying. Hopefully one day soon the decent people of this country will rise up and take America back.

  • Lauren D

    Hey cgray,


    Wait, Obama turns over the space-mission to the PRIVATE SECTOR, and that shows he’s a marxist ? Are you suggesting Nasa is a firewall against government centralization, and a capitalist’s paradigm? Think about it.

    And along similar lines, let me guess, Obama’s administration bailed out the banks because,…. uh, because they are tools of the working class. 😐

    Pick some epithets that make sense next time, k?

    – Lauren D
    P.S. What exactly is the relevance of the President’s being (half) BLACK?

  • JMW

    What people need to realize is that this isn’t the 50s, or even the 90s, anymore.

    In the 50s, the United States had an economy that was more than 50% of the global economy.

    In the 90s, it was the world’s only superpower, and still had an economy that was 30% of the world’s.

    Today that figure is down to 20% – not so much because the US economy hasn’t grown, but because the rest of the world has grown faster (Brazil, India, China, etc).

    In this environment, it will be impossible for the United States to maintain leadership in everything. Or even, likely, anything.

    So is President Obama’s plan bad, or just realistic?

  • Lucas

    [Moderator’s note: This comment has been removed because of its virulent racism.]

  • Bob Dean

    We wanna go to Mars but have no launch or orbit capability. We want the private enterprise to put us in orbit but if they actually make any money at it, we will tax as sales, VAT, income, capital gains and dividend. Ironic that the only government enterprise that has actually contributed to the economy, through funding of basic scientific research, is getting dismantled. Maybe we should all start taking transcendental meditation classes to levitate ourselves to Mars.

  • Paul Levinson

    I agree with Armstrong – ending the Moon program is not only bad for America, it hurts the whole human race

  • Laura

    I’d rather have affordable health care for small businesses than a stupid space program. I could care less about going to the moon, but I’d like my family, me, and all other small business owners to stay healthy and not lose everything we own if we get sick.

  • Simon

    Hey Nick, learn grammer.

    Laura, your obviously a moron. Think of the big picture. This isn’t about you, or your immediate family, this is about humanity.

    For the first time in our history we can really see the future.

    Our population is now over 6 billion (thanks to mindless breeders like yourself). Through the course of our species, we have maintained a steady 2 billion+, until about a hundred years ago.

    Now,after “a” century (versus the 3.6 million years humans are estimated to have been here), we have tripled our numbers. Do the math.

  • Simon

    P.S- The cause of our population boom has been oil. And the oil is going to be gone very soon.

    It’s like life in a pool of water (nevermind the size of the pool), when there is a boom in energy (food in the case of sea creatures, oil in ours), there is a boom in poulation. But when the energy runs out, there is a die off.

    Humans are not above this fact of nature.

  • Kris Casey

    FACT: Who ever occupies the “high ground” on the Planet Earth will rule the people of the Earth.
    If a nation state,or corporation or international body occupies the L points and the Moon they can drop rocks on anybody who offends them below until the groundlings give up.
    Militarize Space NOW!
    We need orbital weapons platforms with nuclear reactors (to power the lasers) so that we can deny launch capability to our foes. IF we have that , then all we need is neo’s or “rocks” and motors to deliver those rocks to the desired orbit for impact on the foe of our choosing. Who ever gains supremay in these things will rule the future of Humanuty.
    Let that be the free peoples of the world, USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Holland , ROK, and our real enduring allies who can provide either $$ or technical expertise
    Othwer wise it will be the PRC or India or less likely Ruissia.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar