After taking heat earlier this year for his proposal to kill NASA's long-planned return mission to the moon, President Barack Obama this week is being blasted anew by a slew of critics, including famous NASA astronauts, as the details of his space policy emerge.
The president isn't set to lay out his "Bold Approach for Exploration and Discovery" until Thursday afternoon, during a televised national address from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But on Tuesday night the White House posted a primer on its Office of Science and Technology Policy Web site outlining some of the new policy's main provisions.
They include an emphasis on long-term deep space exploration, as well as a variety of short-term measures apparently designed to mitigate some of the harsher cuts to the space program Obama has already made or proposed in his 2011 budget.
For example, the president's new plan would boost NASA's budget by $6 billion over the next five years, following the $3.4 billion cut he made last year, notes The New York Times. It would also create 2,500 new jobs at the Kennedy Space Center, slightly offsetting the 7,000 to 9,000 jobs expected to be lost when the space shuttle program ends this year.
And after axing the over-budget and behind-schedule Constellation program -- which featured a new vehicle called the Orion and was to return Americans to the moon by 2020 -- just a few months ago, Obama now seeks to resurrect the Orion crew capsule as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Yet the new plan still would leave American astronauts no way of getting into orbit for the foreseeable future, other than hitching a ride on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft or possibly its Chinese counterpart, the Shenzhou, notes Politics Daily.
That's because Obama believes -- and has repeatedly made known -- that low-orbit human spaceflight should be handled by the private sector. Unfortunately, the rare private spacecraft that have achieved this feat are highly expensive and inconsistently operational.
No surprise, then, that abundant criticism of the Obama plan has come from all directions today, especially from within the storied pool of NASA alumni, including Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. At the same time, the president has also found a few unlikely allies in the form of libertarian commentators and even Armstrong's fellow Apollo 11 astronaut and moon walker Buzz Aldrin.
In the countdown to the president's speech, AOL News has rounded up the most notable reactions to his new space policy from around the Web:
Astronauts Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, in an open letter to Obama posted on MSNBC: "For the United States, the leading space-faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit, and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature."
A group of 27 NASA astronauts, flight instructors and other employees, in an open letter published by the Orlando Sentinel: "NASA must continue at the frontiers of human space exploration in order to develop the technology and set the standards of excellence that will enable commercial space ventures to eventually succeed. Canceling NASA's human space operations, after 50 years of unparalleled achievement, makes that objective impossible."
Commentator Tom Foreman at CNN: "Even folks who do not care about space exploration and believe we have much bigger worries on earth right now will care if the first flag planted by a person on Mars is Chinese. If we accept second or third place in the space race ... behind China and India, for example ... we may as well go ahead and accept that the sun has set on a part of what has made us great."
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in the The Wall Street Journal: "The new NASA budget makes sense for many important reasons. ... Forestalling the moon mission in favor of perfecting the technologies that will allow us to reach Mars within some defined period ahead is sound. We should not rush it and experience an avoidable tragedy."
Blogger Ryan W. McMaken, at LewRockwell.com: "In this age of budding private space travel, thanks to organizations like Virgin Galactic, government space travel is more unjust and obsolete than ever."
Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of private-spaceflight advocacy group the Space Frontier Project, in a blog post at The Huffington Post: "This new approach will then allow us to be able to go anywhere we want in space, and be able not only to stay there, but to build up our presence over time, so that rather than flags and footprints on the moon we can build bases there, and eventually even set up growing outposts on Mars."