Thisstory was updated at 5:38 p.m. EDT.
NeilArmstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, blasted NASA's new plans forfuture space exploration Wednesday, adding that President Barack Obama waspoorly advised when he canceled the space agency's previous course for U.S.human spaceflight earlier this year.
Armstrong,who commanded the historic Apollo11 moon landing mission in July 1969, criticized what he billed as an airof secrecy that preceded Obama's February announcement which cancelled NASA'sConstellation program aiming for the moon. That plan, he told a Senatesubcommittee, was a surprise to many among NASA, academia and the military.
"Aplan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small groupin secret who persuaded the President that this was a unique opportunity to puthis stamp on a new and innovative program," Armstrong, 79, said in astatement to a Senate subcommittee reviewing NASA'snew space plan. "I believe the President was poorly advised."
TheUnited States is risking losing its role as a leader in space exploration withits new plan, Armstrong said, adding that he was concerned with the looming gapin American human spaceflight.
"Othernations will surely step in where we have faltered," Armstrong said.
NASA'sfuture at stake
InFebruary, President Obama announced his intent to cancel NASA's Constellationprogram in charge of building the new Orion spaceships and their Ares rockets.Those new spacecraft were envisioned to replace NASA's retiring space shuttlesand return astronauts to the moon by 2020 under a space vision laid out in 2004by former President George W. Bush.
AWhite House-appointed panel found that the Constellation program suffered fromsevere underfunding and was not sustainable to push U.S. human spaceflightbeyond low-Earth orbit in the near future.
WhiteHouse science adviser John Holdren said President Obama's space plan decision"was not hasty."
"Thepresident heard from a lot of people in this process," Holdren told theSenate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday, adding thatthe list included himself, NASA chief Charles Bolden and lawmakers, amongothers. "He got to the best and most balanced program for NASA, includingits human spaceflight dimension, that the country can afford."
TheConstellation program's cancellation has sparked much criticism from lawmakersconcerned over a gap in U.S. spaceflight capability and expertise.
"Our40-year legacy of leadership in space is on the line," said Sen. KayBailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who represents the home state of NASA's MissionControl. "And we need to have a credible plan to take the next stepforward."
NASA'snew space plan is aimed at developing new technologies, spacecraft and rocketsthat would allow the United States to launch astronauts on the first crewed mission toan asteroid by 2025.
Amanned mission to Mars would follow in the 2030s, President Obama said duringan April 15 speech at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Obama hasproposed a $19 billion budget for NASA in 2011 and added another $6 billionover five years onto that in his April speech.
Tothat end, NASA will retire its three aging shuttles after three more missions(the shuttle Atlantis'final flight is set for Friday) and rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to sendastronauts to the International Space Station ? which would be extended to atleast 2020 under the new plan ? until commercial U.S. spacecraft becameavailable.
Thedesign for a newheavy-lift rocket, vital for launching huge payloads on missions to Mars oran asteroid, would be selected by 2015, Obama said.
WhileObama scrapped the Constellation program as part of his 2011 budget request forNASA, he revived the Orion crew capsule to launch unmanned missions and serveas an emergency escape ship for the space station.
Armstrongsaid that while the Constellation program had the benefit of flexibility, itwas also going to be costly. At the time of its proposed cancellation, NASA hadalready spent more than $9 billion on the program.
Butthe new goal of an asteroid mission and Mars is a stark departure, Armstrongsaid.
"Theseare vastly different plans and choosing the proper path is vital to America'scontinued space leadership," Armstrong said in his statement.
Armstrongand fellow Apollo astronauts Jim Lovell (Apollo 13 commander) and EugeneCernan, who commanded Apollo 17 and was the last man to walk on the moon, havepublicly denounced NASA's new space exploration plan. They called it"devastating" in a statement sent to the media last month.
Cernanalso spoke before the Senate subcommittee.
"We(Armstrong, Lovell and myself) have come to the unanimous conclusion that thisbudget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprintfor a mission to 'nowhere,'" Cernan said in a statement.
Armstrongsaid he supported the idea of new players in the spaceflight arena, but was skepticalof commercial companies would be able to meet NASA's needs in a timely andcost-efficient manner.
"Isupport the encouragement of the newcomers toward their goal of lower costaccess to space," Armstrong said. "But having cut my teeth in rocketsmore than 50 years ago, I am not confident."