Legendary astronauts outline shortfalls of Obama spaceflight plan

In a hearing on Wednesday before the House Committee on Science and Technology, legendary Apollo Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, and former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Thomas Young, discussed their serious concerns with President Obama’s plan for building a successor to the Space Shuttle, which is scheduled to retire at the end of this year.

“From the very beginning it was clear that NASA’s proposal lacked the sufficient detail that Congress would need to determine whether it was a credible plan,” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) said, “Yet, in spite of our best efforts to obtain more information from NASA this situation has not improved.  Indeed, the President’s trip to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15th only added to the confusion as he laid out more aspirational goals, but provided no clear idea of how they fit together or how he expects to pay for these new ventures.”

Former Apollo Astronaut Captain Eugene Cernan, USN (ret.), described the President's goals as “all worthwhile endeavors in their own right.” However, Cernan was extremely critical of the President’s plan for human space flight, saying that “nowhere [in the budget] do we find any mention of the Human Exploration of Space and nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this all important national endeavor. We (Armstrong, Lovell and I) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.'"

Mr. Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, echoed these concerns. “I am persuaded that a return to the moon would be the most productive path to expanding the human presence in the Solar System," he said.   His top three priorities for the human space program are maintaining American leadership; guaranteeing American access to space; and continuing to explore the Solar System.

Members on both sides of the aisle continued to express numerous concerns over the President’s proposed plan to cancel the Constellation system in favor of having NASA buy seats for its astronauts on launch systems that have not yet been designed, tested, or built.  Such vehicles would theoretically be used to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.  NASA has spent the last five years designing the Constellation system, which is to be the Space Shuttle’s replacement.  The Constellation system already represents over a $10 billion taxpayer investment and has demonstrated success.
Since releasing the NASA budget proposal, President Obama has since announced the addition of an ISS crew rescue development program.  However, this proposal has no corresponding increase in the NASA budget proposal.  Estimated to cost between $5-7 billion, many members today agreed with Ranking Member Hall that such continued changes call into question the stability, credibility and sustainability of the President’s plan.

Thomas Young, former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., also had strong concerns with the President's proposal. “A fundamental flaw in the proposed human spaceflight program is a commercial crew initiative which abandons the proven methodology I have described.  NASA's role is reduced to defining safety requirements and general oversight,” he said, “Commercial crew is a risk too high, not a responsible course and should not be approved.”

Hall agreed, saying “In the absence of a defensible, credible plan, I and many of our members continue to support the Constellation program as currently authorized and appropriated by successive Congresses.”