WASHINGTON - The first man to walk on the moon said yesterday that President Barack Obama's plans to revamp the human space program would cede America's longtime leadership in space to other nations.
Neil 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.
Last month, Obama told NASA workers in Cape Canaveral that he was committed to manned spaceflight and foresaw sending astronauts to an asteroid and, by the mid-2030s, sending humans to orbit Mars.
Speaking in the administration's defense, John Holdren, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, cited a blue-ribbon report that found that President George W. Bush's Constellation program was unexecutable because of budgetary constraints. The administration "is steadfast in its commitment to space exploration," he said.
Buzz Aldrin, who partnered with Armstrong in the Apollo 11 moonwalking mission in 1969, has supported the president's plan.
Committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) reminded critics that NASA's current budget of $18 billion may be a high-water mark because of budget constraints and "defenders of the status quo for NASA seem to justify their views solely because of the impact of jobs."
The Bush plan called for termination of the International Space Station, development of a new rocket that would support lunar missions and establishing a permanent station on the moon that could be the jumpoff spot for future trips to Mars.
Obama would extend the space station until at least 2020, promote privately built craft to fly to the space station as the shuttle ends its service, decide no later than 2015 on a heavy lift rocket and plan for a trip to an asteroid by 2025 and then on to Mars.