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.”