NASA, White House

White House responds to Armstrong criticism

While what Neil Armstrong and two other astronauts wrote in a letter this week about NASA’s new exploration plan—concerns about loss of prestige have been raised in many quarters—that fact that the publicity-shy moonwalker put his name to it got enough attention that it came up during Wednesday’s White House press briefing. Press secretary Robert Gibbs dealt with several questions about NASA, a rarity in White House press conferences.

“The President will outline a renewed strategy tomorrow in Florida that will provide more jobs for the area, greater investment in innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner, and a more ambitious and sustainable space program for America’s future,” Gibbs said, noting that the Augustine Committee found that Constellation was “un-executable” under existing timelines and budgets. “The program that had been in place,” he said, “was not going to — just simply not going to happen.”

There was some back-and-forth with reports on whether the administration was claiming that the new plan would eliminate the job losses in Florida. “The plan that the President will outline actually would result in more jobs for the area [Florida] than would have been had the plans simply been carried out,” Gibbs said, adding that the job losses from the shuttle program stem from a decision made in 2004 by the Bush Administration to retire the shuttle.

Gibbs added that while astronauts like Armstrong have been critical of the plan, others have supported it. “That’s why, again, there have been many, including Buzz Aldrin, who believe that what the President will outline represents our best opportunity and our best effort to get this agency and program back on pace to put astronauts and rockets into space, as the President so strongly desires.” To back up the point, the White House released a statement by Armstrong’s fellow Apollo 11 moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin, in support of the plan. “What this nation needs in order to maintain its position as the 21st century leader in space exploration is a near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies that will take us further and faster – while expanding our opportunities for exploration along the way,” Aldrin stated. “The President’s program will help us be in this endeavor for the long haul and will allow us to again push our boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth. I believe that this is the right program at the right time, and I hope that NASA and our dedicated space community will embrace this new direction as much as I do.”

20 comments to White House responds to Armstrong criticism

  • amightywind

    Obama chooses conflict then. He must realize that with his sagging fortunes this may be a 2 1/2 year plan. We must all work to insure that this is the case.

  • Doug Lassiter

    It’s good to see that the administration is willing to challenge the judgment of those who are mainly space celebrities. I think we’re all impressed with the accomplishments of these men four decades ago, but they have contributed little (VERY little in the case of publicity-shy Armstrong) to the greater discussion about human space flight in the years since, except perhaps as paid motivational speakers. I respect their voices on this issue, but those voices echo back to the Apollo era, which we simply aren’t in anymore. Not even on steroids.

    Actually, there is a lot in the letter by Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan that makes sense.

    “For the United States, the leading space-faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature”?

    You bet. How did we get in this pickle? It wasn’t by deciding not to do Constellation. That project was going to leave us with a substantial gap in human access to LEO, and we’ve been without the capability to go beyond Earth orbit for a very long time.

    “”Although some of these proposals have merit, the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.”

    It sure is devastating. It’s devastating to have to admit that we’ve wasted $10 billion.

    “America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.”

    No one can argue with that, least of all the President. At least the President has come up with what might well be an executable plan. These venerable fellows have not.

  • M.D.

    @amightywind – It’s the right plan and (on poled average) a third of the people in the country interested in space are already behind it with a significant percentage undecided. And that’s just the people interested in Space.

    The struggling and unemployed general public have much less an interest in spending vast sums of money on space than they have on more immediate issues, like employment and providing for their people (families).

    I’m sure Obama would much rather deal with a divided space community than 300 million angry voters!

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Supporters of Obamaspace cannot get around the fact that it ends space exploration by Americans. If you don’t like Constellation, then by all means replace it with another plan. The Obama administration scrapped Constellation without a new plan.

  • Major Tom

    “Obama chooses conflict then.”

    No, the White House chooses to stand up for the plan in the President’s FY 2011 budget request to Congress — like every White House does.

    Duh…

    Whether someone else chooses to oppose that plan is up to them.

    “We must all work to insure that this is the case.”

    In this context, it’s “ensure’, not “insure”.

    If you’re going to take on the White House, at least learn to spell correctly.

    Oy vey…

  • M.D.

    @Mark – ‘Obamaspace’, is that what Space Technology is to you, a political football…Very disappointing.

  • Major Tom

    “Supporters of Obamaspace cannot get around the fact that it ends space exploration by Americans.”

    Yeah, that’s why the OSTP fact sheet for today’s speech states:

    “The President’s vision for NASA space exploration enables a set of stepping-stone achievements in space that will take us further and faster into space, allowing us to reach a range of destinations including lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, and the moons of Mars, and eventually Mars itself. This sequence of missions will begin with a set of crewed flights to prove the capabilities required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. After these initial missions, our long-duration human spaceflight technologies will enable human explorers to conduct the first-ever crewed mission into deep space to an asteroid, thereby achieving an historical first; venture into deep space locations such as the Lagrange points (potential sites of fuel depots that would enable more capable future missions to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations); and then send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.”

    Yes, this plan most definitely “ends space exploration by Americans.” It’s obviously a big alien conspiracy to keep humanity out of deep space.

    Oy vey…

    “The Obama administration scrapped Constellation without a new plan.”

    Yes, extending ISS operations by five years, putting in place two providers of crew transport by 2016, accelerating HLV development, and flying major exploration technology demonstration and robotic precursor missions by 2014 is not “a new plan.”

    Geez…

  • taka

    Mark R. Whittington wrote:

    “Supporters of Obamaspace cannot get around the fact that it ends space exploration by Americans. If you don’t like Constellation, then by all means replace it with another plan. The Obama administration scrapped Constellation without a new plan.”

    Really? If you were at all objective, you know that’s not at all true.
    The President will be outlining his plan today. The fact sheet released by the White House OSTP already outlines the plan (e.g. going to Lagrange points, moons of Mars, NEAs…. etc.)

    Ending Constellation will DECREASE the gap of exploration by Americans (and presumably by ‘exploration’ you mean going to LEO, which really isn’t doing much exploration is it?)

    It’s no longer surprising when people who oppose the President for whatever reason, hate anything he proposes, even if those proposal’s are a good thing, when OBJECTIVELY analyzed.

    If a President McCain had proposed the same, you guys would be gushing about what a great idea cancelling the Constellation program is. The rest of us would likely begrudingly agreeing. Given that the shoe is on the other foot, is it really too much to ask for people to be objective and leave their personal complaints about the legitimately elected President aside.

    My two cents.

  • M.D.

    You know it’s funny. You hear that everyone is against a pragmatic future, but the reality (born out here) is that it’s completely not true!

    Thank god (and I’m not religious) for common sense and a sensible eye on the purse!

  • MrEarl

    Gibbs and the White House can spin this anyway they want but there is almost universal condemnation for this “plan” from anyone who has truly DONE anything in human space flight.
    Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan are only the latest to come out against this.
    Those opposed include Cris Kraft, Glynn Lundlly, Gene Krantz, Neil deGrasse Tyson and George Meuller. (If you don’t know these names you don’t know the history of manned space flight.)
    In response the White House trots out Buzz Aldren who only last month was pushing his own plan. Jeff includes a piece from Angelia Peura who’s only claim to doing anything is a consultant to the German Aerospace Center in DC and a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.
    Vlad lists Rick Tumlison, (Space Expert and Entrepreneur?) from the Huffington post, the democrat answer to Fox news.
    The people against this “plan see this for what it is, a way to kill US human space flight.
    The president’s “plan” MAY develop technologies that MAY take us someplace on the future.

  • M.D.

    Nearly everyone you mention, with few exceptions and Angelia Peura have vested financial links with the companies that stand to mis-out financially from the closure of Constellation – as I suspect you do too.

  • MrEarl

    @M.D.
    “Thank god (and I’m not religious) for common sense and a sensible eye on the purse!”
    Do you know what part of every dollar spent by the federal government is spent by NASA? Half a penny!
    The GM bailout could support the NASA budget for 3 years. The AIG bailout could support NASA to 8 years.
    This year, FY’10, just the budget deficit is 1.3 TRILLION bucks. If you ELIMINATE Nasa that figure would still be 1.3 trillion!
    There’s enough blame to pass around to BOTH parties for getting us into this situation. Skimping on funding NASA properly is half a penny wise and pound foolish.

  • MrEarl

    M.D
    You suspect wrong about me. I’m a Systems Engineer for a small private bank in Maryland. As I told the Augustine Committee in June, I have no dog in this fight other than to see US human spaceflight advance safely and SOON. I think this plan by the White House is just a way to kill NASA human spaceflight and set US human spaceflight back 50 years.
    As for the others that I mention, name 3 that have a vested interest in seeing Constellation proceed.

  • Major Tom

    “there is almost universal condemnation for this “plan” from anyone who has truly DONE anything in human space flight.”

    Simple not true.

    13 former astronauts, including ones that can claim firsts like Norm Thagard, wrote this WSJ op-ed:

    online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107204574475091646686368.html

    Peter Diamandis, the guy who put together the X PRIZE, wrote this WSJ op-ed:

    online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107204574475091646686368.html

    Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, endorsed NASA’s FY 2011 budget request:

    businessweek.com/news/2010-01-28/nasa-to-get-6-billion-to-outsource-crew-ferry-official-says.html

    Don’t make stuff up…

  • M.D.

    @Mr.Earl,

    OK. I’ll accept your credentials at face value. I won’t be drawn into “naming three” for legal reasons (although their associations are on public record) and it’s a long drawn-out conversation.

    I am aware of the “half-a-penny” argument and I’m absolutely AMAZED at how many members of the general public (and some professionals!) foolishly use this argument to support financial mis-management.

    Why would self-thinking (i.e. not simply led by others) people recommend a massive spending policy in the midst of a serious recession simply because other federal costs are currently running high?!

    The country has lived on its credit card for so long, that if it wasn’t for the petro-dollar…well I dread to think!

    And to make matters worse, all this criticism in the face of a NASA budget increase?!

    Everyday they sound like a group self-serving ingrats.

    They’re a disgrace.

  • MrEarl

    No one is making stuff up except you Tom.
    That WSJ article is from Oct 2009, BEFORE the the FY’10 budget was even released.
    Now who’s making stuff up?

    Plus, its support of commercial HSF to LEO so NASA can concentrate on beyond LEO. A promise to make a decision on HLV in 5years, extension of a space station in LEO and a few tech demonstrations is hardly a program for beyond LEO manned spacefligt.

    The BW article you refer to is also BEFORE the FY’10 budget was released and quotes Ms Ride’ initial reaction from some of the leaks that were making the rounds prior. Haven’t heard much from her since. Don’t confuse silence for acceptance.

    Get you facts straight before you post.
    Geez…..

  • MrEarl

    M.D.
    I’m not supporting financial mis-management and I would grudgingly support a cut to the NASA budget if it was in an effort to truly cut the deficit and balance the budget. On the other hand, that in not the case here.

  • Major Tom

    “That WSJ article is from Oct 2009, BEFORE the the FY’10 budget was even released.”

    So? Do you really think that 13 astronauts that wrote an op-ed supporting commercial crew would oppose a new NASA budget that has as its centerpiece commercial crew? C’mon, no one is that dense.

    Think before you post.

    “Plus, its support of commercial HSF to LEO so NASA can concentrate on beyond LEO.”

    No duh. As the President outlined earlier today, first exploration missions beyond Earth orbit by 2025, near-Earth asteroid missions early on, followed by Mars orbit and Mars landings in the 2030s.

    Think before you post.

    “The BW article you refer to is also BEFORE the FY’10 budget was released and quotes Ms Ride’ initial reaction from some of the leaks that were making the rounds prior. Haven’t heard much from her since. Don’t confuse silence for acceptance.”

    Ride endorsed Obama when he was running for President. She also served on the Augustine Committee, the report for which served as the template for NASA’s FY 2011 budget proposal. Do you really think Ride opposes a new NASA budget from a President she endorsed, that builds on a report that she helped write? C’mon, no one is that dense.

    Think before you post.

    Lawdy…

  • MrEarl

    Your making assumptions Tom.
    Has any of these people endorsed NASA’s FY’11 budget since it’s been announced?
    Your confusing silence for support.
    I also agree with the part of supporting commercial cargo and crewed access to the ISS but I think his budget will make NASA just an R&D agency and kill beyond LEO exploration for decades.
    I know what he said today but you have to remember he’s a politician and what they say and what they mean are usually two completely different things. You should know that by now.

    Lawdy…..

    I admit I didn’t know Ride endorsed Obama for prez. Lately I’ve had my doubts on the impartiality of most of the members of that board and the conclusions they came up with. It will be interesting to check that out.

    Just sayin’

  • [...] white elephant known as “Ares I” rocket. (See Jeff Foust’s analysis here and here.) I was sorry to see the Administration decide to preserve the Orion capsule as a lifeboat for the [...]

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