Neil Armstrong says US space program 'embarrassing'

September 22, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan

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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1 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2011
Many Libertarians consider Neil Armstrong to be a traitor to their desired system of Capitalism.
5 / 5 (4) Sep 22, 2011
"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?"

Prime of its life? The initial design and construction began in the early 1970's on the first shuttle and, although modifications were made over the years, it hasn't radically changed?

Frankly, although I loved the Space Shuttle and it is, in part, what inspired me to pursue my Aerospace Engineering degree, we need an updated vehicle that meets increased safety and performance requirements.

Is the timing of the Space Shuttle retirement bad? Yes. But the greed of Wall Street, national banks, and politicians have led us into total disaster for our economy. It can't be undone and we have to try and fix it so that the U.S. can get back to the business of exploring space.

Opening the door for commercial companies such as Space X, Orbital, Bigelow, etc... is the future for now.
1.9 / 5 (7) Sep 22, 2011
Manned space exploration is a 20th Century concept. Robotic exploration is increasingly becoming cheaper and more effective, and obviously safer. Robots can be engineered to thrive in environments that would kill humans, and can also be sent on one-way missions that are banned for humans. By mid-century robots will probably even be smarter than us.

Within a few decades the only humans in space will be millionaire thrill-seekers, or perhaps Chinese astronauts sent aloft for propaganda purposes.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2011
Populating the universe with robots is not a lofty goal. We need to get humans out there. In the 1960's we went from sandlot technology to conquer the moon in 10 short years. Let's do it again with all new and superior equipment by 2020, that's 9 years from now which should be easily within reach, and Mars by 2030 which is a stretch objective but we can get there. It's 19 years from now.
5 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2011
Why is Pres Obama accused of shutting down the space shuttle program? The Bush Administration cancelled the Space Shuttle program in the wake of the Columbia accident. Pres Bush announced the shuttle program cancellation on January 14, 2004 and even sarcastically joked about selling it on EBay. (No better way, I suppose, for the Bush Administration to memorialize the men and women who gave their lives in the exploration of the "final frontier" than to joke about selling it on Ebay).

The general public has a very short memory.
1 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2011
"Populating the universe with robots is not a lofty goal." - AkiBola

But it is the future. Man will only survive as a pet to our machine descendants.

2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2011
"Why is Pres Obama accused of shutting down the space shuttle program?" - azchikie

Because all Conservatives are Liars.
1.2 / 5 (10) Sep 23, 2011
hearing a moon-visitor bitch about nasa is like hearing from a billionaire bitching about how the economy is totally in the shithole.

i think neil armstrong should be incinerated against his will and shot into orbit just to show him how good much better our rockets are now. i bet he'd sign up for it too ( except for the against his will part)

i mean, seriously , who the hell does this old far think he is to be bitching out the very group that sent HIM TO THE MOON. if anyone is going to bitch , how about all the astronauts in training right now, who will probably never get a chance to visit the moon. why does physorg publish the ravings a mad moon man!
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2011
lots of US programs are embarrassing not only space
not rated yet Sep 23, 2011
14 million unemployed could be better used for something rather than nothing.
Technological progress is still valid an it will always be.
Remember all that was to be discovered has been discovered and nothing new rests to be found. So USA just keep vegetating.
Things are slow even for the old man: that says something.
Maybe you will find some inspiration in the old latin saying:
Citius, Altius, Fortius !
4 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2011
"14 million unemployed could be better used for something rather than nothing." = zweinstein

Not nearly enough for the TeaPublicans. Their target is 40 percent unemployment before election time.
1 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2011
employment for it's own sake is highly destructive. if you send 40 million people to dig ditches and buy them food and pay for their shit to have jobs to dig ditches, then you are robbing society of the productive use of 40 million men.

if you doled out the 40m as welfare you are robbing society of the food and salaried otherwise available.

forcing people to dig ditches for money is just when the ultra rich are hoarding their wealth at the expense of everyone else. so by printing money , inflation robs the rich of their purchasing power. however, the zinger is that it is the ultra rich who usually own the profit of the farms and the banks that organize the employment and compensation of 40 million ditch diggers/welfare recipients, thus FURTHER empowering the ultra rich by trying to stabilize a system by locking in the profits of servicing people who would otherwise have been likely to start rioting because they are hungry.

-eventually this sort of 'stabilization' resembles slavery
1 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2011
@ettinone - yea lets be real here though, the constellation program was nothing but a flip back to was laughable at best they would try to utilize a tiny capsule as a next generation vehicle...hysterical in GLAD that program is gone, but it should have been replaced by an updated shuttle program...not killed, just converted to something better....capsules are a joke except as emergency escape mechanisms IMO
@shakescene21 - ABSOLTELY NOT! are you telling me watching images on your tv (lets use porn as an example here) are the same as touching the real thing with your own hands and d**k? NO! We as humans want to discover OURSELVES, not through a gd video just simply is NOT the same....
@vendicar - all PEOPLE are liars, that is not limited to conservatives, or even politicians. In fact, we haven't had a GOOD president who was TRULY FOR THE PEOPLE since the beginning of this laughable excuse of a "free" country...see definition of law and freedom..opposites
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2011
@LuckyBrandon - Your porn analogy is all wrong. If there is an expedition to Mars, 99.9999999% of us will be watching it on tv even if it is a manned expedition. So I have a choice of watching an astronaut in spacesuit walk around Mars (cost of $200 billion) or a robot walk around Mars(cost of $10 billion). Most of us would rather watch the robot and save $190 billion for Earthly problems, especially since the robotic expedition would probably gain more information.

To clarify my point using your porn analogy: If I were forced to choose between Porn Flick A which used robots and costs 10 bucks, or Porn Flick B which used professional porn stars and costs 200 bucks, I'll watch Flick A and save myself $190.
2 / 5 (4) Sep 25, 2011
yea well some people are able to settle for less, and those people are the ones who will never achieve greatness....exploration is about touching things for ourselves sorry...otherwise, there wouldnt be anyone other than natives in the US, nothing but italians in italy, nothing but africans in africa...wait, in fact, OUR SPECIES WOULDNT EXIST!
1.7 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2011
exploration is about touching things for ourselves sorry...otherwise, there wouldnt be anyone other than natives in the US, nothing but italians in italy, nothing but africans in africa...wait, in fact, OUR SPECIES WOULDNT EXIST!

Quite a different scenario; comparing colonization on earth to exploration or colonization of Mars.

Personally, I don't think humans should go to Mars until we are ready to colonize it. Sending people there just to walk around for a few days and then come back is a complete waste of resources when a small group of advanced probes and landers can do all the same science at a fraction of the cost and risk.

Past rovers were mere child's play compared to what will be possible in the next 10 to 20 years. There is no good reason to waste the obscene amounts of resources needed for a manned mission to Mars, UNTIL significant meteorology and mineralogy has been done across the surface at many, many locations by rovers and orbiters.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2011
@LuckyBrandon - I was referring to exploration in the 21st Century, not in 1492 or in 50,000 BC.

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