American Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away on Saturday at the age of 82. Both President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney released statements praising one of the country’s most famous historical figures. In a statement released by the White House Mr. Obama wrote:
Neil was among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time. When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation. They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable - that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.
Today, Neil’s spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown - including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure - sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step.
In fact, the Daily Caller reported that President paid tribute to Armstrong by posting a photo of himself staring into the sky. However, The Obama administration has taken criticism from the space community over changing the direction of NASA. In 2010, The Washington Times reported:
Call it NASA: The Next Generation. The president is pointing America toward a new direction in space, and some heroes from NASA’s long-ago glory days don’t like it.
New rockets to the moon have been canceled. And the space shuttles are about to be mothballed. Instead, the Obama administration wants to rely more on private companies to fly into space over the next few years, while also working to develop a big, new government rocket ship.
But the plan lacks details, and neither a specific initial destination nor a spacecraft has been settled on.
The old space hands aren’t buying it. From Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, to the last astronaut to leave his footprints there, many Apollo-era space veterans are upset. They especially don’t like President Obama’s cancellation of President George W. Bush’s goal of getting to Mars after returning to the moon. They accuse Mr. Obama of abandoning American leadership in space to the Chinese and Russians.
In May of 2010, Armstrong and Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell did not like the White House’s budget for human exploration in space. Although Armstrong’s fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied Armstrong on the famous 1969 moon mission, supported President Obama’s plan, Armstrong testified before a Congressional committee and said: “If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is simply allowed to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered,” said Armstrong. “I do not believe that this would be in our best interests.” National Public Radio further reported:
Armstrong was skeptical of Obama’s plan to rely on new space taxis developed by private companies after the space shuttles are retired. And while Obama has argued that NASA should be aiming for new destinations — like asteroids — Armstrong said he believes that there would be real benefits to returning to the moon, as NASA had planned.
Armstrong and Eugene Cernan — the last astronaut on the moon — told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that the Obama plan was short on ambition, including the decision to alter the Bush administration’s goal of establishing a permanent presence on the moon.
Cernan said that he, Armstrong and Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell agreed that the administration’s budget for human space exploration “presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.”’ Lovell, while not present at the hearing, issued a statement opposing Obama’s NASA budget.
NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on the surface of Mars recently re-ignited interest among Americans regarding space exploration. However, WNYC.org points out both “domestic and international political” issues associated with Curiosity:
The Presidential contenders aren’t ignoring Curiosity either.
Mitt Romney, though unable to take any personal credit for the mission, emphasized the ‘exceptionalism’ angle at a campaign speech in Florida last Monday. He touted Curiosity as evidence of U.S. superiority and ridiculed China’s lunar ambitions, taunting that when the Chinese reach the Moon, “I hope they stop in and take a look at our flag that was put there 43 years ago.”
Ordinarily, a sitting president up for reelection might rush to take credit for a successful mission that happened in his first term, but Obama’s official statement was subtle; he applauded America’s scientific “preeminence” while advocating that NASA partner up with private companies to foot the bill for future space missions.
The Obama campaign recognizes that trying too hard to capitalize on Curiosity could come back to bite them. The president’s record on space has its blemishes, and he drew heat from science celebs like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson after his 2013 budget proposal axed NASA funding drastically. The proposed budget would force NASA to table two important Mars voyages over the next six years (including the mission to bring a Martian dirt sample back to Earth for analysis, which experts say is the next major step in Mars research).
Unlike in the sixties, when JFK’s ambitions to land on the Moon faced direct opposition from many fiscal conservatives and only lukewarm support overall, few politicians today can benefit from publicizing an opposition to space exploration. While NASA’s budget may have its ups and downs, McCurdy notes, “space is a cultural issue. We won’t see our commitment to space renegotiated.”
Not only is the space program a cultural issue it is also a jobs issue. As a result of President Obama’s canceling the shuttle program, 7,000 space center workers in Brevard, County Florida lost their jobs. CBS reported back in April:
Shuttle work wasn’t just work. There was enormous pride in doing for America what no other workers in the world could even dare. Lou Hanna manned a gigantic crane that cleared the platform before launch. He worked on the first shuttle in 1981. And the last, 135 missions later.
Scott Pelley: What did seeing the last shuttle launch mean to you?
Lou Hanna: I felt anger.
Scott Pelley: Anger?
Lou Hanna: Oh, yeah. Because this does not have to be the last launch. It doesn’t have to end this way. I mean, it, it just doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t compute. I guess I’m still in denial because I’m thinking they’re gonna call me back one day. “We got a launch coming up. We need your help.” How can they do that?
They did it to save three billion dollars a year. Now the only way an American can fly into space is to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. At the Kennedy Space Center, 7,000 workers lost their jobs.
Fifty years of liftoffs are becoming eight months of layoffs.
[The space shuttle pulls into port for the last time.]
Have a look around Brevard County. It’s shrinking. Lots of people are moving away taking businesses down with them.
Chris Milner: It was like, bam, gone. Gone. Gone.
The work ethic that built the shuttle keeps Chris Milner fighting to hang on.
Apparently, Neil Armstrong was more down to earth with the space community and its goals than our current White House.