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The End of Space?

4:01 PM, May 26, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Writing in USA Today, Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell —the first and last men on the moon, and the commanders of Apollo 11, 17, and 13 — highlight another example of President Obama’s lack of faith in American exceptionalism.  In a piece entitled, “Is Obama Grounding JFK’s Space Legacy?” the three astronauts (now 80, 77, and 83 years old) write:

By 2005, in keeping with President Kennedy's intent and America's resolve, NASA was developing the Constellation program, focusing on a return to the moon while simultaneously developing the plans and techniques to venture beyond, and eventually to Mars. 

The program enjoyed near-unanimous support, being approved and endorsed by the Bush administration and by both Democratic and Republican Congresses…. 

President Obama's proposed 2011 budget did not include funds for Constellation, therefore essentially canceling the program. It sent shock waves throughout NASA, the Congress and the American people. Nearly $10 billion had been invested in design and development of the program….

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.

“We intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.”

— President Kennedy

Obama’s lack of commitment to the U.S. space program is hardly new, and it can hardly be attributed to his budgetary frugality. Instead, it reflects a low-horizon worldview and a lack of enthusiasm for humanity’s shared explorations and discoveries, and in America’s central role in those extraordinary ventures.

Implicitly reminding us that yet another important matter largely hinges on the American people’s verdict on November 6, 2012, Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan conclude:

The response to Kennedy's bold challenge a half-century ago has led to America's unchallenged leadership in space. We take enormous pride in all that has been accomplished in the past 50 years. And we have the people, the skills and the wherewithal to continue to excel and reach challenging goals in space exploration.

But today, America's leadership in space is slipping. NASA's human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing. We will have no rockets to carry humans to low-Earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years….After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent. 

“We have a long way to go in this space race. But this is the new ocean, and I believe that the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”

             — President Kennedy

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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