The United States entered into the challenge of space exploration under President Eisenhower’s first term, however, it was the Soviet Union who excelled in those early years.
Under the bold vision of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and with the overwhelming approval of the American people, we rapidly closed the gap in the final third; of the 20th century, and became the world leader in space exploration.
America’s space accomplishments earned the respect and admiration of the world. Science probes were unlocking the secrets of the cosmos; space technology was providing instantaneous worldwide communication; orbital sentinels were helping man understand the vagaries of nature.
Above all else, the people around the world were inspired by the human exploration of space and the expanding of man’s frontier. It suggested that what had been thought to be impossible was now within reach. Students were inspired to prepare themselves to be a part of this new age.
World leadership in space was not achieved easily. In the first half-century of the space age, our country made a significant financial investment, thousands of Americans dedicated themselves to the effort, and some gave their lives to achieve the dream of a nation.
In the latter part of the first half century of the space age, Americans and their international partners focused primarily on exploiting the near frontiers of space with the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
As a result of the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, it was concluded that our space policy required a new strategic vision. Extensive studies and analysis led to this new mandate: meet our existing commitments, return to our exploration roots, return to the moon, and prepare to venture further outward to the asteroids and to Mars.
The program was named Constellation In the ensuing years, this plan was endorsed by two Presidents of different parties and approved by both Democratic and Republican congresses.
The Columbia Accident Board had given NASA a number of recommendations fundamental to the Constellation architecture which were duly incorporated. The Ares rocket family was patterned after the Von Braun Modular concept so essential to the success of the Saturn 1B and the Saturn 5.
A number of components in the Ares 1 rocket would become the foundation of the very large heavy lift Ares V, thus reducing the total development costs substantially. After the Ares 1 becomes operational, the only major new components necessary for the Ares V would be the larger propellant tanks to support the heavy lift requirements.
The design and the production of the flight components and infrastructure to implement this vision was well underway. Detailed planning of all the major sectors of the program had begun. Enthusiasm within Nasa and throughout the country was very high.
When President Obama recently released his budget for NASA, he proposed a slight increase in total funding, substantial research and technology development, an extension of the International Space Station operation until 2020, long range planning for a new but undefined heavy lift rocket and significant funding for the development of commercial access to low earth orbit
Although some of these proposals have merit, the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.
America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz – at a price of over 50 million US dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves.
The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.
It appears that we will have wasted our current $US10-plus billion 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, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.
While the President’s plan envisages humans travelling 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.
Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.
Commander, Apollo 11
Commander, Apollo 13
Commander, Apollo 17
Johnson Space Centre Past Director
Skylab 3, STS 3
Apollo-Soyuz, STS-5, STS-41B, STS-35
STS-1, STS-7, STS-41C, STS-41G, Kennedy Space Centre Past Director
Michael D. Griffin
Past NASA Administrator
Kennedy Space Centre Past Director
Apollo 12, Skylab 3
Alfred M. Worden
Gemini-Apollo Flight Director
Jim McDivitt Gemini 4
Apollo 9 Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager
Gemini-Apollo Flight Director, NASA Mission Ops. Past Director
Apollo 13, Shuttle Landing Tests
STS-51D, U.S. Senator
Gemini 7, Apollo 8
Skylab 2, STS-6
Past Associate Administrator For Manned Space Flight
Apollo 17, U.S. Senator
Gemini 11, Apollo 12
This letter comes as a surprise to everyone, and it’s a very strong statement coming from 27 heroes of the space program. Even more so because Armstrong – unlike his mission comrade Buzz Aldrin, who supports Obama’s space plan – is an extremely private, quiet and shy individual who rarely appears in public, despite being the first man to ever walk on the Moon.
Their message is not stronger for that reason, however (although it adds lots of gravity to it). It stands on its own. This is not only about space. This is about technology as a whole and also the psychological effects of humans expanding their boundaries. The United States and the world need NASA to keep advancing the world forward, to a new frontier. Not only in space, but technologically. It’s only the good thing to do for all the habitants of this Pale Blue Dot. -JD