Former astronauts pan Obama's proposal for NASA space program
In an open letter, 21 former astronauts and six others say Obama is ‘throwing away’ America’s dominance in human spaceflight. The president has outlined major changes to the NASA space program.
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Obama announced earlier this year that he planned to ax for budgetary reasons the Constellation program, first outlined in predecessor George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. Development of the new Orion spacecraft and the Ares rockets that were to lift them into orbit had already cost more than $9 billion over the previous five years.Skip to next paragraph
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While proposing to give NASA $100 billion over the next half decade, Obama pledged extra funds for scientific research and support of commercial enterprises that might eventually take American astronauts into space.
Obama’s plan would have NASA focus on developing technologies for powerful rockets that could take astronauts beyond Earth orbit, although the timetable and destinations are more open-ended.
But the letter’s signatories say this is not the right time for Obama’s proposals. The space shuttle program is slated is to end later this year, which raises the prospect of the United States relying on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station.
“We are very concerned about America ceding its hard earned global leadership in space technology to other nations,” the letter says. “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.”
Thousands of space shuttle engineers and other agency workers staged a rally last weekend outside the space center to protest against the job cuts.
Senators representing Florida and Texas, where most of NASA’s workers are employed, have promised to fight Obama’s proposals in Congress.
Not all of NASA's noted alumni are critical of the Obama’s plans, however. In February, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the moon, issued a statement applauding Obama's vision, saying: "A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our Nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century."
Still, those who signed the letter worry that a vital opportunity to educate and inspire American youths is being lost.
“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,” they wrote. “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.”