On Tuesday, the White House hosted a private event with the two surviving members of the Apollo 11 crew, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, along with Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, and NASA administrator Charles Bolden. The White House has traditionally hosted the Apollo 11 crew on five-year anniversaries like this; previously, President Obama met with the crew on the 40th anniversary in 2009.
Few details about the meeting itself were disclosed. In a blog post, the White House discussed the Apollo 11 mission as well as NASA’s future plans, ranging from commercial crew to the Space Launch System and long-term plans to send humans to Mars. In a separate statement, President Obama said he used the meeting with the Apollo 11 crew “to thank them for serving as advocates, role models, and educators who’ve inspired generations of Americans – myself included – to dream bigger and reach higher.”
The meeting was not without some controversy, though. At a press briefing later Tuesday, reporters complained that the president’s meeting with the Apollo 11 crew was private, with no media allowed to observe. CBS’s Major Garrett told press secretary Josh Earnest that he planned “to lodge a formal complaint about the Apollo 11 event” on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association because of that lack of access.
Other reporters at the press conference used the anniversary to quiz Earnest about US-Russian relations in space, including comments by former NASA administrator Mike Griffin that the US is in a “hostage situation” with the Russians since they control crew access to the International Space Station. Earnest said little about that, other than the Us continues to cooperate with Russia in space and other arenas despite the Ukraine crisis.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, penned an op-ed about space exploration for The Hill earlier this week. “There are also those who ridicule space exploration. Waste of time. Little green men. Not a priority,” he writes. “We should not let them discourage us.”
Smith did get some criticism of the administration’s space policy into the piece, rueing the cancellation of the Constellation program and complaining about “costly distractions” to the space program, including what he perceived to be an overemphasis on Earth science at NASA. “The Obama administration continues to advocate increasing climate change funding at NASA at the expense of other priorities such as space exploration. There are 18 federal agencies that fund climate change research, but only one does space exploration.”
Smith’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), also issued a statement about the 45th anniversary with Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the space subcommittee. “NASA is critical to our nation and its economic strength, and there is no more fitting way to honor Apollo 11 than to resume our commitment to human exploration of deep space that we proved possible 45 years ago,” Edwards said in the statement. “Our bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2014 gets us started, and I look forward to continuing the mission.”
“Such an endeavor [of human space exploration] will inspire our young people, spur technological innovation, and strengthen our geopolitical standing,” said Johnson. “I urge my colleagues in Congress and in the Administration to make that program a reality.”