back to article Neil Armstrong renews attack on Obama space vision

Neil Armstrong has renewed his criticism of Barack Obama's space vision, insisting that the president's decision to scrap Constellation and head off to Mars was "poorly advised". Speaking yesterday to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Armstrong said: "I have yet to find a person in NASA, the Defense …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. TimNevins
    Thumb Down

    This is a bit rich

    From a guy thats never gone to the moon.

    Closest he got was a film set.

    I'll get my coat from the onset wardrobe.

    1. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: This is a bit rich

      Many a true word......

      An aeroplane pilot might have an opinion about the aeronautics industry, but at the end of the day his opinion isn't any more valid than anyone else in the industry. Apollo wasn't built for Armstrong, he wasn't even the pilot, his opinion is no more valid than Lovell, Anders or Haise.

      1. steward

        Talk about apples and oranges

        Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. That was the mission, *get to the moon*.

        Lovell, while he did a great job getting Apollo 13 back to earth, never got to the moon. Flew around it at a record distance, but didn't land.

        Anders was on Apollo 8, doing important research that helped Apollo 11's success.

        And Haise got gypped out of his second chance to get to the moon when Apollo 19 was cancelled, after being a crew member on Apollo 13.

        Saying Armstrong's opinion is no more important than these other three astronauts is like saying the new PM's opinion is no more important than a Labour backbencher.

        1. No, I will not fix your computer

          Re: Talk about apples and oranges

          >>Saying Armstrong's opinion is no more important than these other three astronauts is like saying the new PM's opinion is no more important than a Labour backbencher.

          Not really! Armstrong was the commander of the moon mission, he is not in a position to say whether the moon is a valid destination for exploration or travel any more than the bloke who drove my bus to work is in a position to define the transport strategy of the country, his experience would be great to be able to pass on to other mission commanders, but not decide on strategy as a whole, while notable for the acheievments that you put down the other team I mentioned were the backup Apollo team, under a slightly different set of circumstances they would have been on the moon instead, your PM analogy makes no sense as a PM is in an appropriate position to make strategy decisions, whereas an opposition backbencher can only suggest (maybe your analogy places Armstrong in a similar position as a backbencher, which would be a valid analogy, apart from the fact a backbencher is at least in the right job, which Armstrong isn't).

          With that sort of attitude you'll get actors becomming governors and presidents.... oh wait....

  2. Winkypop Silver badge

    Peaked too early...

    Apollo was amazing, truly amazing! I remember it all.

    As a product of the race with the USSR, the program was accelerated *almost* to the point of it being before it's time.

    Now days people think of space as; 'been there done that'.

    The term 'space-age' is looking pretty ancient now.


    I'd much prefer an active and exciting space program coming out of NASA.

    Mars awaits.

    Best wishes to Mr Armstrong and co.

  3. Bruce Hoult

    40 years late

    I love those guys and respect what they did, but the start of the "long downhill slide to mediocrity" happened in the 70's then they crippled the Shuttle to make development cheaper at the expense of operating costs.

    Anyone in NASA who knew how to design a new engine or rocket left or retired decades ago. A prime rationale given for Constellation was to train a new generation but it's a very very expensive way to do that.

    Other Apollo astronauts, for example Buzz Aldrin, have rebutted the claims made by Armstrong & co.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    skills shortage.

    Better have another rummage round Germany and Russia for any stray rocket scientists as they appear to have run out at the florida nazi refuge.

  5. Christoph

    Tough luck

    Guys, the reason is that you *can't afford it*.

    In the 60s your economy was doing well, the top communist country was deeply in debt to you, and you were stamping on the head of one small country. Oh, and you had good science and engineering education. You could only just afford the moon shots.

    Now, the world economy is in the pits, you are gigantically in debt to the top communist country, and you are stamping on the heads of two different small countries. And you have crappy science and engineering education and have to import your skilled workers.

    You simply cannot afford a big space programme any more.

    1. Desk Jockey

      Too true

      There is a lot they cannot afford and expensive trips of Mars are one of them right now. But they could afford it if they cut some of that defence spending currently going strong at over $650bn a year. Obama would be going up against serious politics to do that and it would make the health reform scrap seem like small beer in comparison.

      Armstrong is right, you do need big projects and big money, not for the short term, but for the long term ability to build stuff. Unless he suggests somewhere else for the money to come from, the truth is that he does not have enough lobbying power and there are several other more urgent things that need dealing with first.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Not so true

        Yours is the lament heard since earliest days of the republic. Just as cleaning your plate had nothing to do with the starving children in (name your fav poverty-ridden place), as your mother falsely claimed, so spending on a national project of completely different nature has nothing to do with bankrolling your favorite form of welfare or whatever.

        As in all cultures in all times, it has been politics and greed, not scarcity, that deprives the many for the benefit of a few. There is no reason to believe that a dollar saved at NASA will ever see that dollar spent on a "better" cause and, if privatized as Obama wants, then even the remaining dollars spent there will mostly disappear down the gapping maw of conglomerates who can find no other justification for existence than profit - with the less competition, the better. There are a lot of things we can no longer afford, to be sure, but what we can least afford are any more special-interest owned politicians, like our last half-dozen presidents who have behaved like victorious war-lords, taking turns at plundering the country, its institutions, and its people for payoffs to their loyal supporters, To Obama the empty suit, incompetent in all things other than political pay-offs, NASA is just another pot of cash to be distributed to whomever ponies up the "campaign contributions" (read legalized bribes) and boosts his ego. Mars or the Moon and manned or robotic has nothing to do with it.

    2. Captain TickTock

      Werner Von Braun... there's a good locally produced skill....

      I'll get my lab-coat, mein gut Herr.

      1. Christoph

        Only the top guys

        Yes, they imported some top talent. But they used many, many thousands of skilled workers on Apollo. It's no good having skilled designers if there's nobody capable of building the designs competently.

    3. Captain Thyratron

      Given how our budget is divided, perhaps.

      We could afford it ten times over. The problem is all the silly shit that we think we would rather afford instead.

  6. Mike Bell


    Print a load of money. Don't give it to the banks. Give it to NASA instead. They will employ thousands of engineers who will spend their wages on beer, cars and hookers, thus stimulating the economy back into action. What could be easier?

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      In fact....

      ...forget the beer and cars!

      1. Q&A
        Thumb Up

        And Blackjack....

        Ah,,screw the whole thing,

  7. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Sad but

    I think it's pointless to rely on any government anymore for an initiative in space. The space was never important to politicians, even for JFK, who said that if he had a cheaper and Earth-based alternative to space race with the Russians he would much prefer that one then push for the Moon.

    When the first bunch of people succeeds to land on an asteroid and become very rich owners of a huge mountain of almost pure Fe and Ni or something similar - that's when the real space race will kick in.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      These days, it's sure true.

      A long time ago, perhaps, there was no commercial incentive to compel business interests toward space--that was when a government program was truly important to space exploration. Even then, it would have gone nowhere if it had not been convenient to politics and relevant to the development of better ways to toss thermonuclear warheads at the USSR. We often forget why the US government was so concerned with the development of rockets and high-altitude jets. The threat of war is a pretty compelling reason to put a lot of elbow-grease into something, and perhaps we take for granted how important an animus that was to American science and engineering in the "space age".

      Now there are plenty of commercial incentives for business in space--chiefly communications, but that's just the beginning now that we have this idea that anybody who has the money really can just put stuff in space--while, having no particularly apparent or tangible political or military reason to do new and interesting things in space--sure, perhaps they will arise in a decade or two--NASA finds it safer to play with their cubicle decorations and toss around Powerpoint presentations for things they're never going to build than to take such risks as are inherent in breaking new ground.

      Armstrong remembers the NASA that had something to compel it to get things done, because that was the NASA he worked for. I'm sure he misses it dearly, but that NASA is gone and all that's left is a rigid, risk-averse, self-licking lollipop.

  8. Lorum Ipsum

    This is why a former astronaut should run for president

    The start of the "long downhill slide to mediocrity" was Skylab. Or rather the utter failure to maximise the potential that project had. Oh no, it was far more important to send the last remaining Apollo CM on a pointless Soviet-US handshake in space. The only person that benefited from that was Nixon.

    The US can afford it. Of course they can. If they wanted to. Cutting the defence budget by just ONE F22 would probably fund NASA for a year.

    I think it's great that Neil Armstrong is speaking out on this, more astronauts - retired and active - should too. It's just a pity it's falling on deaf ears.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Neil seems to have missed the point.

    "Armstrong went on to insist that the US was effectively throwing away half a century of work which had allowed it to "acquire a position of leadership in space"."

    Throwing away the lead is precisely the point, and has pretty much been the Democrat aim since Kennedy was shot.

    1. David Stever

      Who threw it away?!?

      It was Richard F.U. Nixon who decided that having three more missions to the moon to discover and explore were somehow not worth it, even though the ships had been built. He shut down the Saturn V production line as well. What bollocks that was! We might have found 35 years ago that the moon had thousands of tons of water, instead of last year. We might have found the means to continue that exploration, instead of being stuck in low earth orbit for the past 40 damned years.

      The planet was not ready for a reusable shuttle that wasn't all that reusable, as it turns out [14 dead], but now Obama is being things right by getting the easy stuff (transit to LEO) pushed over to a commercial company, and having NASA work on the things that are still hard, like getting back to the huge open pit mine called the Moon, and finding out where the water is (Moon, Ceres, every other frakking rock in the asteroid belt), so we can start using the resources of the solar system. God bless you, Barack Obama.

  10. Dave Walker

    Dump Ares for Human Rated Atlas or Deltas

    It's not as though the United States does not have several heavy lift rockets that are in production, have proven records, and could be adapted to human launch.

    Besides, what we really need is a infrastructure system to get to the Moon, and Mars. Think "Transcontinental Railway" instead of "Lewis and Clark Expedition.

    1. Marduke

      "Human Rating" existing design = total redesign

      If you human rate the Atlas or Delta, you don't have the Atlas or Delta anymore. They would have to be COMPLETELY redesigned and would be NOTHING like what they are now. It would be like "tweaking" the design of a minivan to become a Formula 1 racecar.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Was already done long ago

        Atlas is(was) a man-rated system - most of the Mercury and some of Gemini programs used Atlas as launchers. In the 60's.

        1. David Stever

          Atlas Family

          The original Atlas was a US ICBM, and was used by Mercury, after they flushed the Redstones

          Gemini used a Titan II, another ICBM, and the only booster close to being safe as houses. The newest Atlas is built around a Russian engine design, and not that close to the old Atlas . Lockheed is working towards 'man rating' the new family, but NASA has moved the goal a couple of times during the process.

      2. David Stever

        Human Rating forcing a redesign/rebuild? B-S!

        The Human Rating is just minor adjustments of the flight profile, so that the rocket doesn't exceed human G force maximums during the flight to orbit. To declare that it would be a complete redesign of either the Delta IV or the Atlas V doesn't know what they're talking about. See the Selenian Boondocks blog a year or two ago, where this very topic was discussed, and what it meant was explained, by rocket scientists.

        1. Marduke

          "Human Rating" existing design = total redesign

          "The Human Rating is just minor adjustments of the flight profile, so that the rocket doesn't exceed human G force maximums during the flight to orbit. To declare that it would be a complete redesign of either the Delta IV or the Atlas V doesn't know what they're talking about. "

          That is completely and utterly WRONG. For one, you simply can't "make minor adjustments" to the flight profile to significantly change it. Rocket science doesn't work that way... The entire structure was designed and built around the specific loading of the flight profile it was designed to fly. You just can't "slow it down". You get your flight profile FIRST, then you get your loads, then you can BEGIN to design your structure AFTER you know it's loading profiles. Going backwards is pushing rope.

          Also, the strength and fracture margins are COMPLETELY different for man-rated structures. I know EXACTLY what I'm talking about, it's what I do for a living. By the time you add enough weight to have the required margins and safety factors for manned flight, your payload on the Delta IV and Atlas V go to ZERO. Redesign and reanalysis time alone would be LONGER than starting a brand new program from scratch, which is EXACTLY why we didn't go that way when the new programs started 4-5 years ago.

          BTW, the vehicles of the Mercury and Gemini program were NOT man-rated by current standards. They weren't even close.

          Just think about new building construction vs complete renovation of an old house. Any person who has done it will tell you that renovation to update a house and bring it up to code is MUCH more expensive and time consuming that just plowing it under and starting from scratch.

  11. Tom Fleming


    We did stop NASA from further manned-space exploration after Skylab. The USA economy wasn't that strong in the 70s. The presidents of the 80s never had much use for manned spaceflight. Certainly is got larger in the 90s, culminating in the ISS from 1998, completed in 2011. We are expecting its planned-deorbit to be move out from 2015, but that is not definite yet.

    Clearly, NASA rebalanced itself towards unmanned spacecraft. There were, after all, a history of unmanned probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars before Apollo took wind. NASA has had unprecedented success with Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, Magellan, Cassini, Martian Rovers, Phoenix, MRO, and New Horizons is enroute. There is substantial leadership and technology-gain from these pursuits.

    The message that is not penetrating is that our technology growth favors robotic missions, for the most part. I do agree that a new generation of boosters is needed, but Ares was (at best) a warm-over of Space Shuttle boosters with little scientific or economic advantage.

    1. David Stever

      Hand me my strap-ons

      Both the Atlas and the (god-forbid!) Falcon 9 has designed to at their upper end, strap together 3 first stages in parallel to massively add to their throw weight. You can look at the wiki or the corporate web pages to see what they would be capable of. Neither are quite as large as what the Ares V was supposed to lift, but a better engine could do so much better than was the Ares V was supposed to do for us. Maybe the Russians could dust off the Energia booster again...

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    @Dave Walker

    "It's not as though the United States does not have several heavy lift rockets that are in production, have proven records, and could be adapted to human launch."

    Pretty much as Atlas and Titan were adapted Mercury and Gemini. IIRC Atlas was looked at for human carriage as part of a contract with Bigalow Aerospace to supply their space hotel plan. Part of NASA's funding will be to add a fault detection system as standard to *all* new build Atlas and Deltas.

    BTW SpaceX's Falcon 9 was designed from day 1 to meet NASA's human rating requirements, as will the Orbital Sciences Launcher.

    You have hit the nail on the head.

    But that's *not* the point. They won't be designed, launched and operated *by* NASA.

    They won't be under NASA *control*.

  13. eliot

    One of the few things Obama has done right.

    The reason that Constellation was canceled is that it, like most government programs, was over budget, over schedule, and not performing to spec. I don't like Obama, but in this one instance I think he was right.

  14. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Blank check

    Just about everyone at NASA, and most of the Space-Anoraks simply want a return to the "blank check" days of Apollo, where money was no obstacle and "everything was possible"

    They don't understand that's just not going to happen.

    (Granted that money funded an assload of basic R&D and produced tons of spinoff benefits, but Congress will never see it that way)

    Besides, the government can't fund space forever. Sooner or later, private industry does have to step up to the plate.

    Plus the US doesn't have the balls any more. We're too much a bunch of pussies that wouldn't fly a new rocket until it was proven to be safe enough for a 4yo child. It would be viewgraphed and powerpointed to death by managers unable to make basic technical decisions, and it would be canceled at the first tiny snag, just like X-33, or die in a bureaucratic turf war like DC-X.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      Yeah, about like that.

      Indeed. I think we've forgotten that new things are risky, and that this doesn't necessarily mean we should avoid them.

      I might add that, back then, NASA had something clear and substantial to *do* with those "blank checks". Congress probably had some idea that they'd get real science and engineering out of that money (whereas, these days, it'd probably accomplish little better than an increase in the quantity of tacky feather-pens in NASA offices, once a committee had formed a committee to form committees in charge of directing investigations about investigations into the safety of investigations of the safety of tacky feather-pens, and the entire mess had come to some irrelevant consensus a decade later).

      NASA is a fine example of why "bureaucracy" is a dirty word. They are masters of the cover-your-ass game, and are so good at it that they forgot that space exploration is not entirely about finding ways to absolve oneself of responsibility.

    2. Monkeywrench

      Bureaucracy definitely the deal killer

      You hit the nail on the head with the last paragraph. Huge government bureaucracies and the final frontier just do not mix.

      Unfortunately I don't think the private sector will accomplish much more than low earth orbit tourism. Going any further requires very large rockets.

      Enter the Chinese. No budget constraints, no special interest groups, no taxpayer accountability....

      1. David Stever

        what going beyond LEO needs

        @ Monkeywrench Unfortunately I don't think the private sector will accomplish much more than low earth orbit tourism. Going any further requires very large rockets.

        With refueling, smaller rocket stages can go damned near anywhere in the near solar system. Technos have wanted NASA to test on-orbit fuel transfers for a decade or more, but if that worked, than the need to build huge-ass boosters would be lessened, and for the rocket boys, that would be as bad as the Navy being told we won't be building them another damned battleship. If you can launch a transfer stage into orbit mostly empty, and refuel it from other fuel tankers that have been lifted into orbit, you can go to the moon, to an asteroid, or even to Mars.

        Once LM or Boeing, or Space-X is in orbit, then with a few bucks, a Bigelow hotel module, and an imagination, you can go anywhere.

        1. Marduke

          Fuel transport

          And exactly how do you propose we get that fuel up there to begin with? You fuel fraction goes up with larger structures, meaning it is MORE efficient to launch it up with big vehicles, not lots of small ones.

          The reason it's not done is because people who still have some basic math skills know not to listen to those who do not.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Armstrong ..

    .. knocked on my front door I would welcome him in for a cuppa.

    But, if he were to make suggestive comments to my wife I would have to say "OI, ARMSTRONG, NO"

    'Tis the way of things.

  16. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Blank check

    Not a fan of Nasa, and I think commercial will do LEO launches cheaper.

    But this isn't really a question of writing Nasa anoraks a blank check, it's simply the difference between writing a blank check to Boeing/Lockheed/Rockwell space systems division rather than Boeing/Lockheed/Rockwell defense systems division.

    The same money is going to subsidize the same corporations to build pretty much the same kit - it's just the nature of the package to be delivered that's different.

  17. Morpho Devilpepper

    Once a hero, now a pedant

    He's just bitter he won't be able to look over the shoulders of the mission control folks and point out all the places he recognizes. "Ok look, I tripped over that rock back in the 60's. I remember that pile of rubble. That's my footprint right there. They can take that hill faster...wussies."

    I'm pretty sure I left my coat in the Mare Imbrium...can you chaps fetch it for me?

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021