Washington D.C. – May 26, 2010 - Today in a hearing before the House Committee on Science and Technology, legendary Apollo Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, along with former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Mr. 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,” said Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). “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.”
The NASA budget proposal cancels the Constellation program and instead signals a shift toward such goals as developing “transformative technology,” heavy lift propulsion research, robotic precursor missions, investment in commercial crew and cargo capabilities, climate change research, aeronautics R&D, and education initiatives. Today, former Apollo Astronaut Captain Eugene Cernan, USN (ret.), described these 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.”
Cernan continued, “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.’”
Echoing these criticisms, legendary astronaut, Mr. Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, discussed what he thinks should be NASA’s space flight priorities moving forward. Armstrong said, “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 went on to lay out his top three priorities for the human space program: 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.
On an earlier panel, addressing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Committee members reiterated their demand that NASA follow the law and not cancel any contracts associated with Constellation development in fiscal year 2010. Members strongly urged moving forward with Constellation in order to give Congress time to evaluate the President’s proposal.
Discussing his strong concerns with the President’s proposal, Mr. Thomas Young, former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., said “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.” Young concluded that “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.”
For more information on today’s hearing, or to read witness testimony, please visit the GOP Science and Technology Committee website.