By STEWART M. POWELL
May 12, 2010, 7:40PM
WASHINGTON — Pioneering moonwalking astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of hastily concocting an ill-conceived road map for manned space exploration in its move to shelve NASA’s back-to-the-moon program.
Armstrong, who took man’s first steps on the moon in 1969, and Cernan, who took the last steps in 1972, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that President Barack Obama’s plans to end shuttle flights and shift responsibility for building manned spacecraft to commercial companies was a risky strategy that reflected a predilection for developing commercial spacecraft industry at all costs.
“A plan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small group in secret who persuaded the president that this was a unique opportunity to put his stamp on a new and innovative program,” Armstrong testified. “I believe the president was poorly advised.”
Federal departments with a stake in space, including the Pentagon, were kept out of NASA budget deliberations, Cernan said, prompting the conclusion that the proposal was likely formulated hastily “with little or no input from the NASA administrator, (NASA) center directors or senior NASA management.”
Bailout for firms?
Obama has asked Congress to boost NASA’s budget over the next five years by $6 billion to $100 billion, with much of the money going to commercial space firms to develop spacecraft and rockets to ferry crew and cargo to the orbiting space station.
Cernan said NASA administrator Charles Bolden was so devoted to fostering the fledgling commercial spacecraft industry that he had privately told him in a telephone call last week that NASA would “bail out” commercial space firms if they ran into trouble developing the spacecraft.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the panel’s subcommittee with NASA oversight, pressed Bolden and White House science adviser John Holdren to describe the budget process that led to the plan to cancel the $108 billion Constellation program.
“It is my budget; it is my plan and I am here to defend it,” insisted Bolden, a four-time astronaut and retired Marine Corps lieutenant general who took over the space agency last summer.
Holdren rejected suggestions that “neither I nor General Bolden was involved” in the budget proposal.