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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan Testifies Before the U.S. Senate

Written Testimony of

Captain Eugene A. Cernan, USN (ret.), Commander, Apollo 17 , Astronaut (ret.)

Before the

Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation

United States Senate

May 12, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me here today to express my personal views concerning the Administration’s proposed FY2011 budget as it pertains to America’s role in the future of Human Exploration in Space.

One month ago, Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and I released an opinion paper expressing our concern over the Administration’s FY2011 proposed space budget. We spent a great deal of time writing and refining our document, choosing words such as "devastating", "slide to mediocrity", and "third rate stature" very carefully, so that the intent of our message would not be misinterpreted and our deep concern about the future direction of human space flight as outlined in the President’s proposal would be fully understood. We particularly wanted to avoid any political overtones because the support of America’s role in space since its beginning has traditionally transcended partisan politics.

It was determined after the Columbia accident that NASA should return to its core values, focusing its resources once again on space exploration while continuing its space exploitation through its support of the International Space Station (ISS), with the Space Shuttle providing access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The Congress supported such a focus with a near-unanimous bi-partisan support in both the 2005 and 2008 NASA Authorization Acts.

We have recently heard a lot of eloquent verbage about the exploration of space – landing on an asteroid, circling Mars, and at some time in the future perhaps landing on the Red Planet. There is talk about a decision yet to come of building a large booster which might ultimately take us anywhere we want to go into the far reaches of the universe. There are, however, no details, no specific challenge, and no commitment as to where or specifically when this exploration might come to pass. "Hope is not a destination, nor is it a management tool." I, personally, define the exploration, in contrast to exploitation, of space as "going where no man has gone before, doing what has never been done before, doing what others couldn’t do, wouldn’t do, or perhaps were afraid to do."

However, when one examines the FY2011 budget proposal, nowhere is there to be found one penny allocated to support space exploration. Yes, there has been much rhetoric on 2 transformative technology, heavy lift propulsion research, robotic precursor missions, significant investment in commercial crew and cargo capabilities, pursuit of cross-cutting space technology capabilities, climate change research, aeronautics R&D, and education initiatives. Yet nowhere do we find any mention of the Human Exploration of Space and nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this national endeavor. We (Armstrong, Lovell and myself) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to "nowhere."

In this proposed budget we find several billions of dollars allotted to developing commercial human access to low Earth orbit, based upon the assumptions and claims by those competing for this exclusive contract who say that they can achieve this goal in little more than three years, and that it can be done for something less than 5 billion dollars. (These are the same entrepreneurs who are over a year late delivering unmanned cargo to LEO.) This assumes they can design, build, flight test, and develop a man-rated spacecraft and booster architecture along with the infrastructure required for such a venture. This includes redesigning the requirements of mission control, developing the support and training simulators, writing technical manuals for training and onboard procedures, developing the synergy between a worldwide tracking network and the uniqueness of a newly designed space vehicle along with an emergency recovery force needed to handle this new space system. These are just a few of the development and support requirements to put any new manned system into space. Although I strongly support the goals and ideals of commercial access to space, the folks who propose such a limited architecture "do not yet know what they don’t know." There are a myriad of technical challenges in their future yet to be overcome, safety considerations which cannot be compromised as well as a business plan and investors that they will have to satisfy. As an example, it took over a year and a half of review and redesign of the Apollo I hatch before operational and safety requirements were satisfied. All this will lead to unplanned delays which will cost the American taxpayer billions of unallocated dollars and lengthen "the gap" from Shuttle retirement to the day we can once again access LEO. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, a "Going Out of Business" sign hanging on the door is always a possibility in any high dollar - high risk investment.

The United States, through NASA, has spent a half-century learning what we didn’t know, finding answers to questions we weren’t smart enough to ask at the time, developing technology that was needed to meet the challenge and get the job done. We came from Alan Shepard’s flight in 1961 to the Space Station and Shuttle today with a side trip or two to the moon along the way. The evolution of this learning process was not without its cost – not just in dollars, but also in the lives of our friends and colleagues. It took the courage, effort, dedication and self-sacrifice of thousands of Americans who allowed us to come this far this quickly. And, although we paid dearly for our mistakes, it is a testimonial to their commitment and American ingenuity that everyone who went to the moon came home. Therein is a lesson we cannot afford to ignore. Is this the NASA we want to transform?

Based upon my background and experience, I submit to this Committee and to the Congress that it will take the private sector as long as 10 years to access LEO safely and cost-effectively. A prominent Russian academician is quoted as saying in order to bring a craft to the standard of quality and safety for piloted flight, the United States will be dependent on Russia until at least 2020. The Aerospace Corporation estimates an initial cost of 10-12 billion dollars, plus the added cost of modifications required to launch vehicle ground systems. Should such a commercial venture run into insurmountable technical problems, business venture concerns, or – God forbid – a catastrophic failure, it would leave the United States without a fallback program, unable to access even low Earth orbit for some indeterminate time to follow. In any event, under this proposal the United States will be abandoning its 50 billion dollar, 25 year investment in the ISS, leaving us hostage to foreign powers. Is this one of our "Potential Grand Challenges" of the 21st century?

Additionally, The President’s proposal suggests we develop "technology for the future." The technology we enjoy today, 40 years after Apollo, is technology that was developed from accepting a challenge and reaching for a goal. It was technology with a focus, with a mission. To simply put the best and the brightest in a room and tell them to develop breakthrough technology that could or might or may be useful in the future is a na├»ve proposition. Exploration drives technology innovation – not the reverse.

Also in the proposal is the possibility that maybe, at some time, perhaps as far down the road as 2015, the United States would decide to develop a heavy lift booster. This is a very vague proposition that will likely never be funded to fruition. Coincidently, Constellation has a heavy lift booster, Ares V, not only on the drawing boards but in component test today. Why do we need a new decision in 2015 for one already in development today?

A late addition to the Administration’s proposal, and one very obviously not well thought out, was a provision to build an "Orion Light" spacecraft as a rescue vehicle on the ISS. Although we have never had need for a rescue vehicle, we have today two Soyuz continuously stationed on the ISS capable of carrying as many as six people to safety should the need arise, with a provision for a third Soyuz should the crew complement ever increase to as many as nine – which is highly unlikely. An "Orion Light", before it is qualified to transport human beings to safety from the ISS, certainly would have to be man-rated. To man-rate a spacecraft requires a great deal more than following a list of safety requirements and protocol instructions included in its development. The "Orion Light" would have to go through an extensive development, test and evaluation phase before being qualified to carry humans. It sounds very similar to what the existing Ares I/Orion development proposal is all about within the overlying Constellation architecture.

Constellation itself is an architecture that over a five year period has gone through several detailed reviews and has been vetted by every government agency from the OMB to the DOD, and certainly by NASA – by every agency that has an ownership interest in any technical, scientific, budget or benefit to be derived from Human Space Exploration. In addition, an arsenal of the best engineers, scientists and management experts in America’s aerospace community added their knowledge and expertise to the review of the proposed Constellation architecture before it ever became an official program worthy of consideration. Constellation follows the Von Braun model in the evolution of the Saturn V, wherein the development of the Ares I is the embryo for the development of the Ares V. This shared DNA, with commonality of critical components throughout, leads to greater cost effectiveness, a higher degree of confidence and safety, and provides the first elements of a heavy lift booster. Appropriately under the law, both Houses of the Congress of the United States with overwhelmingly bi-partisan support, approved and agreed that Constellation should go forward.

In contrast to the five years which has been required to bring Constellation to its present status, the Augustine Committee was required to provide their report in 90 days. The report contained several suggestions and alternatives to Constellation, few of which were included in the FY2011 budget, but ultimately the Committee came to the conclusion that Constellation’s architecture had been well managed and is indeed executable, providing it has the appropriate funding that had been denied for several years. Important to note is that the Committee was directed to base their conclusions and recommendations not on the FY2009 budget, but rather on the FY2010 budget from which tens of billions of dollars had already been removed between 2010 and 2020. Naturally, the Augustine Committee concluded that Constellation was "unexecutable" within the confines of that budget. I would have reached the same conclusion. More importantly, however, the funding proposed for FY2011, if prudently administered, is more than adequate to continue the development of Constellation.

It is unknown how much time and thought was put into the existing budget proposal for FY2011, or by whom this proposal was generated, but it is common knowledge that few if any of those government agencies referred to above were asked to participate, nor, of significant note, was the DOD or the engineering or management expertise that exists throughout NASA today. This leads one to the conclusion that this proposal was most likely formulated in haste within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and/or the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with little or no input from the NASA Administrator, Center Directors, or senior NASA management. If that were the case, the originators quite likely were promoting their own agenda rather than that of NASA and America’s commitment to Human Space Exploration, as directed by Congress in the Authorization Bills of 2005 and 2008.

With the submission of FY2011 budget, either the Administration and the originators of this budget proposal are showing extreme naivete or, I can only conclude, they are willing to take accountability for a calculated plan to dismantle America’s leadership in the world of Human Space Exploration. In either case, this proposal is a travesty which flows against the grain of over 200 years of our history and, today, against the will of the majority of Americans. The space program has never been an entitlement, it’s an investment in the future – an investment in technology, jobs, world respect and leadership, and perhaps most importantly in the inspiration and education of our youth. Those best and brightest minds at NASA and throughout the multitudes of private contractors, large and small, did not join the team to design windmills, but to live their dreams of once again taking us where no man has gone before. If this budget proposal becomes the law of the land, these technicians, engineers, scientists, a generation removed from Apollo, yet re-inspired by the prospect of going back to the moon and on to Mars, will be gone – where I don’t know – but gone.

America’s human space flight program has for a half century risen above partisan differences from Eisenhower to Kennedy to the present day. The challenges and accomplishments of the past were those of a nation – never of a political party or of any individual agenda. If we abdicate our leadership in space today, not only is human spaceflight and space exploration at risk, but I believe the future of this country and thus the future of our children and grandchildren as well. Now is the time for wiser heads in the Congress of the United States to prevail. Now is the time to overrule this Administration’s pledge to mediocrity. Now is the time to be bold, innovative and wise in how we invest in the future of America.

Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for this opportunity to express my personal views on a subject for which I have a passion – the future of my country!

Sincerely, and with respect,

Eugene A. Cernan

Commander, Apollo XVII

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