March 16, 2010

Astronauts Rip Obama Moon Cancellation

A pair of former NASA astronauts who once made the journey to the moon are voicing their displeasure at President Barack Obama's decision to indefinitely postpone any future trips to Earth's satellite.

Speaking to BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh during Foundation for Science and Technology at the Royal Society in London last week, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell said that the cancellation of future moon journeys "will have catastrophic consequences in our ability to explore space and the spin-offs we get from space technology."

"They haven't thought through the consequences," Lovell added.

Joining Lovell at the conference was Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and Eugene Cernan, the last American to set foot on the lunar surface. Armstrong did not comment on the issue, but Cernan told the BBC that he was "disappointed" that his last man on the moon status was still intact, some 38 years after serving as part of the Apollo 17 crew.

"I thought we'd have gone back long before now," he added. "I think America has a responsibility to maintain its leadership in technology and its moral leadership...to seek knowledge. Curiosity's the essence of human existence."

Obama announced in February that he was scrapping plans developed under the George W. Bush administration to return to the moon by 2020. During his 2011 budget request, the sitting President called the project "behind schedule" and "lacking in innovation," and instead favored a plan that would subsidize private-sector space activities.

Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), defended the decision, telling the BBC's Jonathan Amos last month that the change in policy wasn't "a step backwards...I think the step backwards was trying to recreate the Moon landings of 40 years ago using largely yesterday's technology, instead of game-changing new technology that can take us further, faster and more affordably into space."


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