Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, forever immortalized as the first man to set foot on the moon, has taken issue with President Obama's outline for the future of NASA and America's future participation in space. Obama's plan calls for scrapping the Constellation program — which would have replaced the country's retiring shuttle fleet with rockets to ferry cargo and personnel — shifting focus from the moon to Mars, and concentrating on next-gen technology rather than having NASA repurpose the equipment it's used for decades.
Speaking to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday, Armstrong said: "I have yet to find a person in NASA, the Defense Department, the Air Force, the National Academies, industry, or academia that had any knowledge of the plan prior to its announcement."
He continued with, "A plan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small group in secret who persuaded the president that this was a unique opportunity to put his stamp on a new and innovative program. I believe the President was poorly advised."
The Constellation program has been widely criticized for being behind schedule and over budget. Obama's new direction for NASA would eliminate the agency's own ability to deliver personnel into space, which would mean it would have to rely on pioneering companies in the private sector, instead. This shift would throw away half a century of innovation, according to Armstrong.
"If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is allowed simply to fade away," Armstrong said, "other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that this would be in our best interests."
As for the administration's response, White House science adviser John Holdren defended Obama's plan to the Senate Committee, saying that the president's decision "was not hasty" and that plenty of people, including NASA chief Charles Bolden, were part of the process.
"The president heard from a lot of people in this process," Holdren said. "He got to the best and most balanced program for NASA, including its human spaceflight dimension, that the country can afford."
Armstrong was joined by fellow retired astronauts and Apollo commanders James Lovell and Eugene Cernan (Apollo 13 and Apollo 17, respectively), who, together with Armstrong, signed an open letter back in April criticizing the impending cancellation of the Constellation program.
Cernan had this to say: "We have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere."