The deep space travel vehicle that will be the future of America’s space program was announced by NASA this week. That’s good news for Lockheed-Martin who will develop it but some legendary astronauts disagree with the direction of the program.
“As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy-lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
The new capsule, now called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), will be based on the Orion space craft that had been part of the Constellation return-to-the-moon program, with landing on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by 2035 as a new goal. Effectively canceled by President Obama in 2009 when his proposed 2011 budget did not include funds for the inherited program, developer Lockheed-Martin calls it a New Era of Space Exploration.
In a highly-critical answer to the NASA announcement in USA Today, legendary astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan look back to the beginning of the U.S. space program for answers.”Obama’s advisers, in searching for a new and different NASA strategy with which the president could be favorably identified, ignored NASA’s operational mandate and strayed widely from President Kennedy’s vision and the will of the American people” the astronauts said in the USA Today post.
The former commanders of moon missions note diligent work by Congress to steer NASA’s program back towards Kennedy’s goals in spite of a reduced budget but question the reality of efforts to partner with industry for future development.
“Entrepreneurs in the space transportation business assert that they can offer such service at a very attractive price – conveniently not factoring in the NASA-funded development costs. These expenditures, including funds to insure safety and reliability, can be expected to be substantially larger and more time consuming than the entrepreneurs predict.”
Finally, noting the apparent demise of NASA’s human space flight program and what appears to be a lack of direction or a solid plan to maintain leadership in space exploration, the astronauts draw a sobering conclusion:
“Kennedy launched America on that new ocean. For 50 years we explored the waters to become the leader in space exploration. Today, under the announced objectives, the voyage is over. John F. Kennedy would have been sorely disappointed.”
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Flickr photo by Futurilla