The Astronauts Speak: Where to Now?

As we’ve seen from this week’s posts, the changes in the space program’s future initiated by the Obama administration will have long-term effects on America’s future in space.  On our final post on the US in Space, listen to the voices of the astronauts and the NASA staff.

Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Eugene Cernan, commanders of Apollo 11, Apollo 13, and Apollo 17, wrote in an open letter:

“When President Obama recently released his budget for NASA, he proposed a slight increase in total funding…the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating. . . . It appears that we will have wasted our current $10+ billion dollar investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded. . . 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, destinies our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.”

CBS News correspondent Bob Orr asked astronaut John Glenn to look into the future.

“Because the shuttle’s going down,” Glenn said, “we will not have our own means of getting into space which I think is too bad. I don’t like this at all.  It could be five years – maybe longer before the U.S.has replacement launch vehicle ready to go. After Atlantis comes home and the shuttle program is shut down, American astronauts will have just one way to reach the International Space Station. We’ll actually have to go over and have our people go up on Soyuz out of Kazakhstan with  Russian launch vehicles – which I don’t like. I don’t think that’s very seemly for the world greatest space faring nation as President Kennedy termed us. . . The next mission though, like the financing is uncertain. There’s talk of landing on asteroid, maybe traveling to Mars. But, for now we face a troubling pause. An end of something means the beginning of something else and I don’t think that something else is going to be the death of the manned space program.”

In another open letter (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-14/business/ct-biz-astronaut-letter-apr14_1_human-space-nasa-staff-exploration) to President Barack Obama, from former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, flight director Gene Kranz and several NASA astronauts, asked him to reconsider a new space policy that cancels NASA’s Constellation moon rocket program which was planned to be the new vehicle that would have carried Americans into space.

Dear President Obama;

America is faced with the near-simultaneous ending of the Shuttle program and your recent budget proposal to cancel the Constellation program. This is wrong for our country for many reasons. We are very concerned  about America ceding its hard earned global leadership in space technology to other nations. We are stunned that, in a time of economic crisis, this move will force as many as 30,000 irreplaceable engineers and managers out of the space industry. We see our human exploration program, one of the most inspirational tools to promote science, technology, engineering and math to our young people, being reduced to mediocrity. NASA’s human space program has inspired awe and wonder in all ages by pursuing the American tradition of exploring the unknown. We strongly urge you to drop this misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.

For those of us who have accepted the risk and dedicated a portion of our lives to the exploration of outer space, this is a terrible decision.  Our experiences were made possible by the efforts of thousands who were similarly dedicated to the exploration of the last frontier. Success in this great national adventure was predicated on well defined programs, an unwavering national commitment, and an ambitious challenge. We understand there are risks involved in human space flight, but they are calculated risks for worthy goals, whose benefits greatly exceed those risks.

America’s greatness lies in her people: she will always have men and women willing to ride rockets into the heavens. America’s challenge is to match their bravery and acceptance of risk with specific plans and goals worthy of their commitment.   NASA must continue at the frontiers of human space exploration in order to develop the technology and set the standards of excellence that will enable commercial space ventures to eventually succeed. Canceling NASA’s human space operations, after 50 years of unparalleled achievement, makes that objective impossible.

One of the greatest fears of any generation is not leaving things better for the young people of the next.  In the area of human space flight, we are about to realize that fear; your NASA budget proposal raises more questions about our future in space than it answers.

Too many men and women have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to achieveAmerica’s preeminence in space, only to see that effort needlessly thrown away. We urge you to demonstrate the vision and determination necessary to keep our nation at the forefront of human space exploration with ambitious goals and the proper resources to see them through. This is not the time to abandon the promise of the space frontier for a lack of will or an unwillingness to pay the price.    Sincerely, in hopes of continued American leadership in human space exploration.

Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society, criticized President’s Obama’s plans in the New York Daily News:  “Under the Obama plan, NASA will spend $100 billion on human spaceflight over the next 10 years in order to accomplish nothing. . . Obama called for sending a crew to a near Earth asteroid by 2025. … Had Obama not canceled the Ares 5, we could have used it to perform an asteroid mission by 2016. But the President, while calling for such a flight, actually is terminating the programs that would make it possible. . . With current in-space propulsion technology, we can do a round-trip mission to a near-Earth asteroid or a one-way transit to Mars in six months … Holdren claims that he wants to develop a new electrically powered space thruster to speed up such trips. But without gigantic space nuclear power reactors to provide them with juice, such thrusters are useless, and the administration has no intention of developing such reactors. . . . Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, theUSA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity.”

Buzz Aldrin disagrees. “Many said the president’s decision was misguided, short-sighted and disappointing,” Aldrin wrote in an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal. “Having the experience of walking on the moon’s surface on the Apollo 11 mission, I think he made the right call. If we follow the president’s plan, our next destination in space, Mars, will be within our reach.”

The crash of the Russian Soyuz rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station last week has highlighted the problem with American hoppin a ride on a Russian rocket (at the cost of $52 million per ticket ). 

Tomorrow, Wonders of the World     Rita Bay

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Astronauts Speak: Where to Now?

  1. This month has been wonderful. What fun to relieve space exploration.
    What a shame the program appears to be shoved aside for other things.

    • Thanks so much, Allison. Required more research than ususal because a lot of the info was dated and technical. My favorite was the fate of the moon rocks – imagine dedicated your professional life to tracking down the whereabouts of all the rocks. Worried about the long-term fate of he Space Program, due to program and budget decisions (including sending our tax dollars to private start up companies to privatize the space program). RB

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