Unlike the launch of Dragon two weeks ago, or its berthing with the International Space Station three days later, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did not issue a statement about the successful splashdown of the Dragon last Thursday. However, speaking last Thursday morning at the World Science Festival in New York—a few hours after Dragon left the ISS and a few hours before its reentry and splashdown—OSTP director John Holdren did mention the mission as an example of innovation and public-private partnerships that the administration is trying to support. “This represents an entirely new model for the American space program,” he said in comments starting at the 15:15 mark of the video, “one initiated by this administration and one that, despite the handwringing of naysayers who said it would never work, now promises to change forever the nature of US space exploration and human spaceflight.”
Although one can quibble with Holdren’s claim that this model was initiated by the current administration—the SpaceX mission is part of the COTS program, which NASA started in 2005 during the George W. Bush Administration—the mission did appear to disprove Holdren’s unnamed “naysayers” who may have been skeptical about the capabilities of commercial operators. Then, on Sunday, CBS’s “60 Minutes” reaired a segment about SpaceX that the show first broadcast in March. “60 Minutes” did include an update about the Dragon flight to the ISS, but the core of the segment was the same, including an interview with Elon Musk where he regretted that “American heroes” had been critical of the company. “You know, those guys are heroes of mine, so it’s really tough. You know, I wish they would come and visit, and see the hard work that we’re doing here. And I think that would change their mind,” Musk said.
One of “those guys”, former NASA flight director and JSC director Chris Kraft, objected to the characterization of himself as well as former astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan in the “60 Minutes” segment. In a statement Kraft provided to the Houston Chronicle on the behalf of all three, Kraft said that “60 Minutes” presented “a distortion of the facts and the truth regarding SpaceX and people such as Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and those of us that have been criticizing the present game plan of the U.S. Space Program.” Kraft said they “commend” SpaceX on their recent achievement and their concerns are instead “the lack of recognition that unless the U.S. continues to advance the state of the art and invest the taxpayers money in a rational and affordable Space Program we will become a second rate nation and be left behind by those who recognize what is required.” The statement doesn’t indicate why they waited until the second airing of the “60 Minutes” segment—after the SpaceX flight—to complain about that mischaracterization.