Neil Armstrong says US space program ‘embarrassing’


WASHINGTON—Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, told lawmakers Thursday that the end of the space shuttle era has left the American human spaceflight program in an “embarrassing” state.

“We will have no American access to, and return from, low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for an unpredictable length of time in the future,” Armstrong told the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

“For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable.”

Armstrong was part of a four-member panel of space experts who told lawmakers that NASA needs a stronger vision for the future and should focus on returning humans to the Moon and to the International Space Station.

“A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain,” said the US astronaut, now 81, who was commander of Apollo 11 and walked on the Moon in 1969.

President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program that would have returned humans to the Moon and called on NASA to instead focus on new, deep-space capabilities to carry people to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by 2030.

The retirement in July of the three-decade-old space shuttle program brought an end to the US capability to send humans to space until private industry can come up with a new commercial space capsule to the ISS, maybe by 2015.

In the meantime, Russia’s Soyuz capsules are the only taxis for the world’s astronauts heading to low-Earth orbit, and a ticket to the ISS costs global space agencies between 50 and 60 million dollars each.

“Get the shuttle out of the garage down there at Kennedy (Space Center), crank up the motors and put it back in service,” said Eugene Cernan, who commanded the Apollo 17 flight and was the last man to walk on the Moon in 1972.

“You want a launch vehicle today that will service the ISS? We’ve got it sitting down there. So before we put it in a museum, let’s make use of it. It’s in the prime of its life, how could we just put it away?”

Cernan hailed the vision of John F. Kennedy, “a bold and courageous president who started us on a journey to the stars,” and said thousands of Americans have been inspired by the space race with the Soviet Union.

“Today, we are on a path of decay. We are seeing the book close on five decades of accomplishment as the leader in human space exploration,” Cernan said.

Cernan said Constellation has been replaced by a “mission to nowhere” and called on NASA to make plans to return to the Moon.

“As unimaginable as it seems, we have now come full circle and ceded our leadership role in space back to the same country — albeit by a different name — that spurred our challenge five decades ago.”

He added: “I take no solace in the failure of the last Soyuz booster.”

Due to technical problem with a Soyuz rocket in August, a Russian cargo ship failed to reach orbit and crashed back to Earth, prompting Russia to temporarily ground a part of its Soyuz program to do emergency checks.

Armstrong and others on the panel appeared to favor the unveiling earlier this month of a massive new launcher capable of powering manned space flights well beyond low-Earth orbit, the Space Launch System, which NASA called the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V rocket put US astronauts on the moon.

Maria Zuber, principal investigator on NASA’s unmanned GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) mission that launched earlier this month to orbit the Moon, said lunar study is valuable, but noted that her students are inspired by the notion of exploring Mars.

“The goal of human exploration of Mars is also the consensus opinion of the next generation who will carry out this challenge,” she said.

“Unfortunately Congress is cutting back NASA’s advanced technology work and it is not clear how the agency will be able to unfold new advanced missions without a more concentrated effort to develop new technologies.

Michael Griffin, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, raised concerns about a new space race and called China, which wants to put a robot on the Moon in 2013 and build its own space station for 2015, “a near-peer competitor.”

“When the Chinese can reach the Moon and we cannot, I do not see why any other nation would regard us as a world leader,” he said.

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  • Jiao Takamdemare

    Why can’t the world make space exploration a collective effort of all nations?  The brightest minds in the planet for sure can design and create a program that will benefit mankind into the future.  It is only a matter of unity among us that we can pursue further into the future.  The world is not enough for humans as we go further into the future.

    • Anonymous

      Doing it collectively is a pipe dream. although Russia USA and China are in speaking terms, they are not the best of friends. For them if they lead space exploration they will lead the future, stakes are high and we are seeing that China is trying to capitalize on USA’s economic decline and funding deficits. All of them have the same goal to reign supreme.

    • Rhym Zilog

      Space technological achievements remain a status symbol of power. A measure of capability of one nation. It even function as an  effective deterence against attack from unfriendly or rogue countries as in the case during cold war.  I think Obama’s Plan main hidden  agenda is to trigger another space race to reinvigorate people’s interest in space exploration. Collective effort is next to impossible but collaboration was already done with the ISS. The world is still far from Star Trek Generation where money is no longer a medium of livelihood, trading, status and prosperity.

  • Paolo Dominict Umali

    humans going to the moon and back is a big joke.

    • Jiao Takamdemare

      It is not a joke.  It is a historical fact.

    • Rhym Zilog

      If they can drop and place a robotic space probe in the surface of Mars safely and worked for a period of time. Moon landing is now just a drop of coins in the ocean. Aren’t you using mobile phone with GPS or Google Earth? Many of the technology used in moon exploration is already in your Iphone if you have.  

  • Anonymous

    Hey Uncle Sam! U need funds? Uncle Mike Arroyo can lend u some!!

    • Jiao Takamdemare

      Why not send himself into space and never come back?

  • kronos

    Space program is expensive.  How much benefit will the International Space Station and some space projects have for mankind?  Though US is the leader and if  dont have the funds to support NASA’s vision, forget about it and concentrate more on IMPROVING THE ECONOMY.

    • Lyle Santos

      A lot of us may not know it but NASA, as part of their space program, pioneered many of the everyday tech we use today. To name a few:

      1. TPA Braces – Yes, those teeth braces that you barely see are courtesy of NASA;
      2. Scratch-resistant lenses- If you have a pair eye-glass, you have NASA to thank for that;
      3. Memory foam – You’d still be waking up with stiff neck and body aches if not for NASA’s tech;
      4. Ear thermometer – Those aural thermometers they use in airports to screen for sick passengers? Yes, that’s NASA tech;
      5. Shoes Insoles – If you own an athletic shoe or any shoe with a soft sole, you’re using NASA tech;
      6. Long-distance telecommunications – Although not directly invented by NASA, the technology used in today’s satellites are borrowed from NASA satellite technology;
      7. Adjustable Smoke Detector – Look around your office or in malls, those detectors with improved sensitivity to void false alarms are heavily based on NASA tech;
      8. Safety grooving – Roads, runways, swimming pools all have safety groove to ensure safety — also courtesy of NASA research;
      9. Cordless tools – Although not pioneered by NASA, they made it lightweight and longer-lasting; and
      10. Water filter – Yes, even the water that you drink everyday is made safe by NASA tech.

      These are just some of the benefits of space exploration. These may not be directly related to space per se but the tech they developed in the process has proven beneficial to mankind.

      • ricci santiago

        nice reply

  • Anonymous

    Several decades and trillions upon trillions of $$$ what have we got from the moon, rocks, rocks rocks which are abundant in an Arizonian desert. Moon is passe’ now, let’s go Mars. Scientists say water is evident there. We can establish a Federal Republic of Mars, a Utopian haven where there is no country and no religion too. People live as one. I suggest its capital as John Lennon, D.C. (District of Cosmos).

    • Ariel Joseph Santos


      • Ron Del Rosario

        tarikan was obviously sarcastic.

  • joboni96

    the challenge of the soviet union
    is now absent
    so the capitalist bean counters
    now make the decisions

    relaunch the space shuttles or
    just give them to others
    to operate on profit

  • michael

    to secure peace is to prepare for war…..

  • Anonymous

    $50-60 Million?  No problem. Let’s send the Arroyo’s on a one-way business class ticket to the moon.  

    • Anonymous

      …that would do favor for Gloria and Mike. Theay can bring their billions of pesos to the moon!

  • Pablo Juan

    meanwhile trillions are spent in wars… vision and sense-of-adventure has taken a back seat with greed and economics at the fore.

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