Neil Armstrong, an astronaut who prizes his privacy above all else, has publicly come out against President Obama's plan for NASA. In a letter that was published on MSNBC.com, he called Obama's decision to cancel the Orion spacecraft "devastating" to US Human Spaceflight.
The letter was signed by Armstrong, Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 commander and Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 commander. Many within NASA as well as outside of NASA have come out against Obama's plans which cancels the majority of US Human Spaceflight and put more money in an elaborate R & D program with no end result or ultimate destination as well as an extension of the ISS mission to 2020.
In response to the mounting criticism of his space plan, MSNBC reported that Obama is willing to revive development of Orion but for use as an ISS lifeboat which would launched unmanned and autonomously docked to the ISS for use an emergency escape vehicle and nothing else. The lifeboat Orion would have minimal systems to act as only a rescue/reentry vehicle and would not have any of the needed equipment/systems for lunar or Martian missions. Also Obama would accelerate the development of a heavy launch vehicle though without a capsule to place atop this HLV and no destination to which to send a payload, one has to wonder what it will be used for except for launching large satellites.
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While this is a small step forward it still is not enough. There is still no destination, and there is still no means of reaching low Earth orbit let alone the moon even with the lifeboat Orion. Can the lifeboat Orion still designed with eventual missions to the moon and Mars in mind? Yes but again there is no commitment on part of the administration to go that far. The criticism by Neil Armstrong is certainly going to weaken the any leverage that Obama may have in Congress to get his vision for NASA passed. Tomorrow the President will visit KSC to make an announcement of his plans for NASA.