First, last men on moon criticize Obama space plans

First, last men on moon criticize Obama space plans

Two legends of the US space programme Wednesday questioned President Barack Obama's plans for NASA, with Neil Armstrong taking the administration to task for developing the plan nearly in secret, DPA reported.

Armstrong, the first human on the moon in 1969, and Eugene Cernan, the last human to set foot there, told a Senate committee that changes to the human spaceflight programme announced by the administration earlier this year lacked a clear vision.

In February, Obama's administration announced it would scrap plans started under former president George W Bush for a next-generation spacecraft to return astronauts to the moon and eventually travel to Mars and beyond. That programme was behind schedule and over budget, and officials argued it would never achieve its goals with current spending levels.

Instead, Obama plans to contract out the transporting of US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial providers.

That proposal prompted an outcry from members of Congress and manned spaceflight enthusiasts, while drawing praise from those who saw it as a chance to revamp an unsustainable programme.

Armstrong and Cernan, along with Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, had already stressed their concerns last month in a letter to Obama, in which they said the new plan did not provide enough clear details and put the goal too far off, leaving the US "on a long downhill slide to mediocrity."

Others, most notably Armstrong's crewmate Buzz Aldrin, have come out in strong support of Obama's plan, saying it provides a bold alternative to going where astronauts have already been before.

Armstrong, who has rarely made public statements since his history-making accomplishment, said Wednesday that the plans abandoned a vision already approved by Congress, without consulting with key stakeholders.

"I have yet to find a person in NASA, the Defence Department, the Air Force, the National Academies (of Science), industry or academia that had any knowledge of the plan prior to its announcement," he said.

He called Obama's concession of using spacecraft already under development as a possible rescue capsule for the International Space Station not very useful, and said plans to create a heavy-lift rocket that could carry humans into deep space were too slow.

He called on Congress to review the plans along with experts so that "America will be well served."

Cernan noted that the money wasn't there to back up the rhetoric.

"We have come to the unanimous conclusion that his budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere," he said.

Cernan said that he supports the idea of commercial space enterprise but doesn't believe the private companies being tapped to fly astronauts have yet demonstrated they can do it more affordably or in a shorter timeframe than NASA. He fears the US will be forced to bail out a private space industry.

"Now is the time for wiser heads in Congress to prevail. Now is the time to overrule this administration's pledge to mediocrity," Cernan said. "Now is the time to be bold, innovative and wise in how we invest in the future of America."

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