Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and commander of Apollo 11, is sounding the alarm, in-no-uncertain terms, regarding the deterioration of U.S. space program -- telling Congress NASA's current condition is embarrassing.
Armstrong, 81, who along with astronauts Edwin Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins formed the Apollo 11 crew that completed the first successful moon landing and walk on the moon in July 1969, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Committee Friday that the end of the Space Shuttle program carries the risk of squandering decades of space achievement.
Bush Administration Cancelled Space Shuttle Program
The Space Shuttle program was cancelled by President George W. Bush in 2004, and NASA has not regained its momentum since. What's more, conservative political pressure to cut federal spending and disagreement over NASA's role, and whether the agency should attempt to return to the moon or focus on a more-high-profile, and complex, voyage to Mars, have placed additional pressure on NASA's budget.
Armstrong said the cutbacks risk frittering away the gains achieved by thousands of scientists, engineers, and astronauts and also risks surrendering the United States' space exploration leadership position.
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 said, in prepared testimony.
A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain. Armstrong added.
Armstrong's comments were seconded by Astronaut Eugene Cernan, 77, the last man to walk on the moon's surface, which took place in 1972.
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. You want a launch vehicle today that will service the ISS [International Space Station]? We've got it sitting down there [the Space Shuttle]. 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?
Armstrong: It's Time for U.S. to Lead in Space Again
Armstrong underscored that the United States must find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate [NASA] work force.
The reality that there is no flight requirement for a NASA pilot-astronaut for the foreseeable future is obvious and painful to all who have, justifiably, taken great pride in NASA's wondrous space flight achievements during the past half century, Armstrong said.
Most importantly, Armstrong added, public policy must be guided by the recognition that we live in a technology driven world where progress is rapid and unstoppable. Our choices are to lead, to try to keep up, or to get out of the way. A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain.
Political/Public Policy Analysis: Too much is riding on NASA for Congress to continue to let the agency deteriorate -- research from time in space, as well as technological breakthroughs from the development of devices designed for use in space could be jeopardize. Armstrong, a member of astronaut royalty, provided pertinent and illuminating testimony on the above.
Hence, a way must be found by Congress to both achieve a bipartisan consensus on NASA's mission and fund the agency at an appropriate level.