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Neil Armstrong Criticizes Obama's Space Strategy 508

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the ok-you-can-cut-in-line dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Former astronaut Neil Armstrong has issued a strongly worded rebuke of President Barack Obama, criticizing the president for proposed revisions to the US space program. Armstrong, along with astronauts James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, called the proposal 'devastating' in a letter obtained by NBC News."
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Neil Armstrong Criticizes Obama's Space Strategy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:01AM (#31845106)

    What a moran. just because he one the Tour de France, doesn't mean he's qualified to comment on our president's policies!

  • Out of date (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:01AM (#31845116)

    I don't know how long ago this letter was drafted, but in response Obama has already changed some of his plans for NASA: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041304043.html [washingtonpost.com]

    How about a slashdot story about that rather than old news?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TopSpin (753) *

      old news

      Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan released their signed open letter [politico.com] yesterday. You may not like what have to say, but characterizing their statements, which are less than 24 hours old, as "old news" is ridiculous. Most of the criticisms they make aren't addressed by the latest administration statements, either.

  • by ral (93840) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:02AM (#31845124)
    Buzz Aldrin (the second human to walk on the moon) has a different take [huffingtonpost.com]
    • by Stradenko (160417)

      Forget Buzz. Give me an astronaut I can relate to and admire...

      http://twitter.com/RichardGarriott/status/12163859542 [twitter.com]

    • by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@g ... com minus distro> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:39AM (#31845560) Homepage

      Buzz Aldrin had the best take on the goal to return to the moon. He said it was "more like reaching for past glory than striving for new triumphs." It's hard to ignore him. Aldrin was universally acknowledged by the Apollo astronauts as being the smartest. He was known as Dr. Rendezvous because all he focused on was orbital mechanics of spacecraft and getting them to line up. He graduated from West Point and then MIT. As he's a tough SOB. Some moon hoaxer who called Aldrin a liar and a thief got socked in the face. [youtube.com]

      Anyway, Aldrin is a Republican who took Communion on the moon. It's not as if he's a Democrat trying to get behind his President.

      • by Volante3192 (953645) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:05PM (#31845958)

        We're not going to the moon to go to the moon; we're going to the moon in preparation for Mars. The problem it's being posed more as the former than the latter. I mean, if we can't even get to the moon, what chance do we have for Mars?

        I'm not saying he's wrong, I just don't know the full context of his remarks.

        • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:46PM (#31846532)
          Here's some context from TFA the GP posted:

          For the past six years America's civil space program has been aimed at returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020. That's the plan announced by President George W. Bush in January of 2004. That plan also called for developing the technologies that would support human expeditions to Mars, our ultimate destination in space. But two things happened along the way since that announcement, which became known as the Vision for Space Exploration.

          First, the President failed to fully fund the program, as he had initially promised. As a result, each year the development of the rockets and spacecraft called for in the plan slipped further and further behind. Second and most importantly, NASA virtually eliminated the technology development effort for advanced space systems. Equally as bad, NASA also raided the Earth and space science budgets in the struggle to keep the program, named Project Constellation, on track. Even that effort fell short.

          To keep the focus on the return to the Moon, NASA pretty much abandoned all hope of preparing for Mars exploration. It looked like building bases on the Moon would consume all of NASA's resources. Yet despite much complaining, neither a Republican-controlled nor a Democratic-controlled Congress was willing or able to add back those missing and needed funds. The date of the so-called return to the Moon slipped from 2020 to heaven-knows when. At the same time, there was no money to either extend the life of the Space Shuttle, due to be retired this year, or that of the International Space Station, due to be dropped into the Pacific Ocean in 2015, a scant handful of years after it was completed.

          So, it's no surprise that Bush failed to fund the program fully, since he put our society 1 trillion dollars [costofwar.com] in the hole due to the war in Iraq. Now, NASA is cannibalizing all its other programs in order to save the one effort, the moon, and the larger goal of going to mars has been largely forgotten. What Obama did was right.

          (Sure, go ahead and mod me down, but you can't escape the fact that Obama is facing a reality where the budget needs to be cut to bring the deficit under control, whereas the past administration and congress continually lived in fantasyland believing that they could spend whatever they wanted.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by AshtangiMan (684031)
            I would be tempted to mod you up because of the basic truth. But remember, while Bush was pushing for the war in Iraq (with both Rummy and Dick pulling the puppet strings) it was congress that rolled over, amongst both parties. So shorthanding it as "Bush" is easy and commonplace, but is also really misleading. But Obama, as well as the new congressmen, did inherit this mess and have to deal with it. Those who shout about Obama and the unbalanced budget are myopic at best.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:09AM (#31845208)
    So the new compromise is "half a spaceship"- one that can land, but not launch. Only a politician could invent that one. NASA programs have horizons of 10 -2 5 years, but politicians respond to two year election cycles. Bush cancels shuttle. Obama cancels is successor. Obama need better science advice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Thelasko (1196535)
      Obama has a very clear plan. It goes like this:
      1.Stimulate economy with massive government spending in 09-10.
      2.Slash government budget in 2011. (this includes NASA funding)
      3.Cross fingers that step 1 works.
      4. Increased tax revenues caused by step 1 and spending cuts from step 2 yield budget surplus at then end of 2011.
      5. Say, "See, I balanced the budget!" in 2012.
      6. Get reelected in 2012.
  • by schmidt349 (690948) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:10AM (#31845222)

    Government funding of space travel? I dunno, sounds mighty socialist to me. If we didn't cut funding I bet Obama would launch a statue of Lenin into orbit to gaze down disapprovingly at our capitalist paradise!

    In all seriousness, without a good heavy launcher we'll be at a strategic disadvantage, and the constant scuppering of next-generation space vehicle development is starting to look really stupid. Between VentureStar and Constellation, exactly how many tax dollars have been wasted because some penny-pinching bureaucrat decided it would be "cheaper in the long run?"

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      It seems more logical to use a modular approach rather than One Big Custom Package approach. The large portions of a ship can be carried up using rockets that don't have to be man-rated, reducing their cost. Smaller, safer lifters can then take the personnel into LEO to meet up with the rest of the ship, dock, and then fly off together to study asteroids or whatnot. This appears to be what Obama is leaning toward.

    • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:39PM (#31846434) Homepage

      Between VentureStar and Constellation, exactly how many tax dollars have been wasted because some penny-pinching bureaucrat decided it would be "cheaper in the long run?"

      You do understand that there was a very real possibility that Constellation *would not work*, right? Again, look to your history:

      When NASA was first planning their moon shots they were looking at the Saturn C-3 as being large enough to carry the needed payload. There was a good margin of safety. Going with the C-3 would have saved them LOTS of money. But they decided to go for the more expensive C-5 because they didn't know if their capsule estimates were solid.

      They weren't. As the weight of everything started going up, that margin of safety was eroded, then eliminated. If they had stayed with the C-3 they wouldn't have made it to the moon until the 1970s, if ever. The lesson here has been repeated since with practically every launcher program, ESPECIALLY the Shuttle.

      So what about Constellation? In this case they calculated that the SRBs could *just* do the job. If nothing started getting heavier then it had the power to get the module into orbit with a small margin of safety on the growth side. But then things started getting heavier. So then the upper stage grew along with it, eliminating the margin. Then it kept growing. Then they had to re-engineer the SRBs to get the power back to just enough. That cycle showed no signs of ending, and history suggests that it had a couple more iterations to go.

      The lesson remains clear: build much more rocket than you need, or you'll likely end up not flying.

      Maury

  • It's interesting to note that the Air Force is taking over low-high orbit exploration. I recently read an article that if not mirrors slightly what Armstrong is talking about; it certainly elaborates on what proposition America has for it's space exploration future. The Air Force is proposing a new reusable platform aircraft for exploration; following in the long line of advanced craft with the same naming convention such as the Bell X-1 (which broke the sonic barrier) http://www.dailytech.com/US+Air+Force+ [dailytech.com]
    • Actually, if you're a space geek, the military taking over the space program is the best news you could wish for. Just take a look at who gets a budget. To the DOD, NASA's budget is a rounding error. If you actually want to see this stuff get funded, the Air Force is the best place for it.

  • by astar (203020) <max.stalnaker@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:14AM (#31845286) Homepage

    Apollo Astronauts: Obama Space Plan Will Put the U.S. "on a long downhill slide to mediocrity"

    April 14, 2010 (LPAC)—In an open letter, obtained by long-time space reporter Jay Barbree, and first reported on the NBC Nightly News Tuesday evening, three of the Apollo astronauts who embody the dedication, no-nonesense attitude, and commitment that brought this nation to the Moon, attacked President Obama's proposal to kill NASA's Constellation program. Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, which landed the first astronauts on the Moon; James Lovell, the Commander of the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission (NASA's "finest hour"); and Gene Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17, and the last man to set foot upon the Moon, described the cancellation as "devastating."

    Reprising the history of the American space program, the three former astronauts state: "World leadership in space was not achieved easily. In the first half-century of the space age, our country made a significant financial investment, thousands of Americans dedicated themselves to the effort, and some gave their lives to achieve the dream of a nation." No program in modern history, they state, "has been so effective in motivating the young to do 'what has never been done before.'"

    Nor was the development and design of the Constellation program haphazard or ill-conceived, they state. "The Ares rocket family was patterned after the [Wernher] von Braun Modular concept so essential to the success of the Saturn 1B and the Saturn V" rockets, which took them to the Moon. Although we will have "wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation," equally important, "we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have destroyed." This, for a second time, following the cancellation of the follow-on missions to Apollo, to live on the Moon.

    The timing of this letter is no accident. On Thursday, President Obama makes a whirlwind stop in Florida, at the Kennedy Space Center, to try to sell this destruction of manned space flight. Three days ago, more than 4,000 people rallied nearby in protest, to tell the President what they think of his plan. There has been virtually NO support anywhere for this "outsourcing" of NASA. Out of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, ONE has backed the President. And he will see, again, the outrage of the American people.

  • They're right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mayhem178 (920970) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:15AM (#31845304)
    Manned space flight isn't about being "cost effective", "high priority", or "a good return on investment" (yes, I've heard all of these terms used in regards to spaceflight). It's about exploration, curiosity, and wonder. I challenge you to tell someone who was around on July 20, 1969 that manned spaceflight is pointless.

    It's about doing something simply to show that it can be done, like the explorers of centuries past. I suppose some people find that concept unimportant or even boring.

    I would say that those people are unimportant and boring.
    • Re:They're right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by careysub (976506) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:58AM (#31845854)

      Manned space flight isn't about being "cost effective", "high priority", or "a good return on investment" (yes, I've heard all of these terms used in regards to spaceflight). It's about exploration, curiosity, and wonder. I challenge you to tell someone who was around on July 20, 1969 that manned spaceflight is pointless.

      Challenge accepted! I was born just days after Sputnik was launched, and grew up as a space junkie, following every step of the space race, and watching the Moon landing live.

      It was many things: a stunning technical achievement (we went to the Moon just as soon as it was technically possible to do so), a stunning geo-political achievement (showing - as it was intended to - the advantage U.S. society had over Soviet society, in a non-destructive manner), and one of the most important symbolic events in the history of the human race.

      But it was a colossal scientific failure. Nothing was learned that would not have been learned at a fraction of the cost using unmanned vehicles. Even the "spin off" argument fails to recognize that a focused technology development program could have accomplished similar things far more cheaply.

      And today, "return to the moon" lacks all of the favorable features of the Apollo program - it won't be a stunning technical achievement, or an impressive geo-political or symbolic one. It will just be another colossally expensive scientific failure, compared to what could be achieved with similar money on space probes.

      It's about doing something simply to show that it can be done, like the explorers of centuries past. I suppose some people find that concept unimportant or even boring. I would say that those people are unimportant and boring.

      But is has already been done. An actual viable plan to get to Mars would be a new exploration, but no one has ever been willing to put up the cash for that.

      Did space exploration, and discovery end with Apollo? Hardly! Essentially all exploration and discovery has been due to unmanned probes and observatories, manned flight has returned essentially nothing along these lines. The one contribution it has made - fixing the Hubble - could have been finessed more cheaply and effectively simply by building and launching more Hubbles.

      So yes, the symbolic value of manned space flight is past (unless genuine new goals are set and adequately funded) and the Shuttle and ISS operations have been a pointless waste of money. Expendable unmanned launchers and vehicles would have gotten us farther, faster and cheaper.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Laur (673497)

      It's about doing something simply to show that it can be done, like the explorers of centuries past.

      Most exploration in centuries past was primarily motivated by monetary gain (new trade routes, new sources of natural resources, etc). Just sayin'...

  • My opinion will probably get modded down, simply because someone on slashdot disagrees with it.

    I think giving up on manned space flight is a mistake. I think MORE money put into it will eventually bring new technologies and new technologies bring economic success as American CEOs love outsourcing the economic benefits of existing technology.

    That said, I really think people have lost a sense of gravity for where the country is right now.

    A year ago the world and the US was on the edge of falling into an eco

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkmeridian (119044)

      Can someone mod parent down because he started it off with "my opinion will probably get modded down..."? I hate it when people do that.

  • by BearRanger (945122) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:23AM (#31845400)
    War in Iraq or return to the moon? You had the choice and you chose poorly. Don't pretend that this is just the new guy's problem or that spending money on health care is the issue. If America is broke (and it is, as well as being broken) you have to be more circumspect about where you spend your limited funds. Constellation failed on the last guy's watch because the vision for creating it and the funds for building it were limited from the outset. See here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09844.pdf [gao.gov]
    • by jav1231 (539129) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:35AM (#31845530)
      It would be far better spent on NASA than on bailing out banks and GM. Now we have no more jobs than before AND we're in deeper debt than ever in our history. I'm well aware this started under Bush, BTW. The bailout was essentially his idea. Obama took it to a new level, both were wrong. You can't justify Obama based on Bush. Wrong is wrong inherently and it's consequences could give a rat's about who you voted for.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      War in Iraq or return to the moon?

      As opposed to "War in Vietnam or be first to go to the moon?" the first time around...

  • by Jawn98685 (687784) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:40AM (#31845580)
    "the private sector" isn't good enough. Only lavishly expensive government programs are good enough. Fucking hypocrites.
    • by SlowMovingTarget (550823) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:39PM (#31846444) Homepage

      I don't know many proponents of the private sector that believe it is the solution for everything. The private sector is better at job creation, it's better at near-term efficiency for most ordinary endeavors. There are a very few things, however, where it is more economically feasible for government to do a thing, than it is for the private sector. For example, maintenance of a military, or building a highway system that spans a continent; these are things where government successfully drives industry. The space program, in terms of the kinds of energies (literal and figurative) needed to succeed at it, is one of those few things that government can establish better than can the private sector. That's just basic economics.

      Besides, I thought liberals liked nuance, or is that out of fashion now?

  • They are wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Necron69 (35644) <[jscott.farrow] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:11PM (#31846050)

    With all due respect to those great men, and their accomplishments, they are wrong.

    First of all, everyone take a deep breath, pull up Google, and remember that the space shuttle program was cancelled SIX YEARS AGO by BUSH. That is not a decision by the Obama administration.

    Second, the Constellation program was already years behind schedule, billions overbudget, and would still have resulted in years of us paying the Russians for a ride to the ISS, if they could have even worked out the problems and gotten a system flying. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Constellation would have resulted in a massively overpriced, low flight-rate system that was no better than the shuttle it replaced.

    By giving private industry more incentives to proceed with their plans for commercial spacecraft (which NASA was previously competing with and blocking investment in), the Obama administration has made it vastly MORE likely that we will return to the Moon and space in general. This time, we will have a business reason to STAY THERE, instead of just going sightseeing.

    I am overall not a fan of the Obama administration, but on this one thing, they have absolutely nailed it. This decision is good for the space industry, good for America, and good for the future of mankind.

    Necron69
     

  • by SETIGuy (33768) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:39PM (#31846438) Homepage
    Neil Armstrong was on the Corporate Board of Thiokol, which became ATK Launch Systems Group. ATK Launch Systems Group was contracted to provide the solid fueled booster for Constellation. With its cancellation, ATK Launch Systems Group is losing value. Now ask yourself, how many shares of ATK Launch Systems Group does Neil Armstrong own from his time on the board? Somehow, I don't think Neil will be coming forth with the answer.

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