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The recent death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, brings up the question of what would be the best way to honor his memory.
One way we have immortalized some great men is declaring their birthday a national holiday. We have also declared the Monday closest to Oct. 12, the day Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World, a national holiday even though we now know some Viking explorers arrived in the Americas before he did.
So why isn’t Aug. 5, Armstrong’s birthday, or July 20, the date he landed on the moon, a national holiday?
Part of the reason is Armstrong didn’t seek such attention. He was an unassuming man who shunned the limelight.
But Armstrong, a Purdue University graduate, did care passionately about space exploration. He teamed with fellow astronauts James Lovell and Eugene Cernan to write an open letter to President Barack Obama in 2010 urging him “not to forfeit U.S. progress in space exploration.” Specifically, Armstrong and the others were upset by Obama’s decision to cancel the Constellation program.
As they noted, “After the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, it was concluded that our space policy required a new strategic vision. Extensive studies and analysis led to this new mandate: meet our existing commitments, return to our exploration roots, return to the moon, and prepare to venture farther outward to the asteroids and to Mars. The program was named ‘Constellation.’ In the ensuing years, this plan was endorsed by two presidents of different parties and approved by both Democratic and Republican Congresses.
“ . . . The design and the production of the flight components and infrastructure to implement this vision were well under way. Detailed planning of all the major sectors of the program had begun. Enthusiasm within NASA and throughout the country was very high.
“ . . . The decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating. America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz – at a price of over $50 million per seat, with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the president’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.
“It appears that we will have wasted our current $10 billion-plus investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded.
“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. . . .
“America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.”
We agree with all the points made by Armstrong and the other two astronauts and believe that the president and Congress should reinstate the Constellation program as soon as possible.
That would make the United States the unquestioned leader in space exploration again and would lead to more scientific breakthroughs to benefit our citizens. And that would be the best tribute that anyone could give Armstrong.
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