Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan: SpaceX Destroying America from Within

The successful first mission of SpaceX’s Dragon supply module has reignited a curmudgeonly contretemps: Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan – commanders, respectively, of Apollos 11 and 17 – have no kind words for private space startups, and NASA’s first flight director indirectly blames companies like SpaceX for the decline of the United States. 

The former astronauts showed their years in 2011 House testimony, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk had a chance to discuss Armstrong and Cernan’s skepticism of commercial spaceflight recently with the Tiffany Network’s 60 Minutes

“I was very sad to see that because those guys are heroes of mine,” Musk said. “It’s really tough. I wish they would come and visit, and see the hardware we’re doing here. And I think that would change their mind.”

Original NASA flight director Chris Kraft fuels the oxygen-deprived flames with a testy response to Houston Chronicle SciGuy Eric Berger.  

“What we (The past leaders of the U.S. Space Program) are concerned about,” writes Kraft, “is the lack of recognition that unless the U.S. continues to advance the state of the art and invest the taxpayers money in a rational and affordable Space Program we will become a second rate nation and be left behind by those who recognize what is required.” 

Berger got some interesting comments from Cernan last year. These include a credible critique of the private space business model: 

I’d like to hear all these folks who call themselves commercial space tell me who their investors are. Tell me where their marketplace is. A commercial venture is supposed to use private money. And who are their users? Suppose we, NASA, have no need for their services. There’s no other marketplace for them. 

But it turns out Cernan isn’t opposed to pork-shoot economics. He just doesn’t want the gentlemen players to have to face any competition: 

Now the good news side of this is there are some of the larger aerospace companies looking into getting into it, the Boeings, the Lockheed Martins, the ATKs, are now looking to compete in the commercial side of the business. That’s a little more encouraging. Those are the folks who have been working on everything we’ve done for the last 50 years. They know how it can be done.

A person who has walked on the moon may deserve some leeway when it comes to in-my-day obscurantism, but this is commentary unbecoming a NASA astronaut. Still, if Musk’s wish to win over his NASA critics is genuine, this seems like a problem he could solve by giving them seats on the board or other titles and honors. And a sash, don’t forget to give them each a sash. 

At Forbes, James Poulos attacks the astronauts' complaint as well as Musk's presumption that space entrepreneurs are leading the way to a spacefaring future that will save humanity from an eventual extinction event: 

Some eventual extinction event? If Musk’s sense of mission for SpaceX is dependent upon his faith that humanity faces a meaningless dead end if it’s confined to Earth, we’ve got bigger problems than the stubborn persistence of the stale national-greatness vision. Without getting too heavily religious, it seems important to observe that the dominant form of scientific secularism today is apt to leave people with the imagination-deadening view that Musk puts forth: Earth is too small for us; the universe doesn’t care about us; everything is destined for entropy, extinction, or explosion; the goal is mere survival. A more divine view, we might say, is that Earth is not a prison or a curse but the promise of an infinite future, an invitation to consider a possibility that’s beyond our imaginations but also naturally fulfilling of who we really are. Think of the approach to space travel and interstellar colonization a culture could achieve if that was its point of departure!

That's too deep for me, but I agree that thinking space is going to be the place our species escapes to requires you to ignore the immeasurable worse-ness of space relative to even the harshest environments on this planet. 

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  • dbcooper||

    Armstrong's always been a bit of prick hasn't he?

    Now the good news side of this is there are some of the larger aerospace companies looking into getting into it, the Boeings, the Lockheed Martins, the ATKs, are now looking to compete in the commercial side of the business. That’s a little more encouraging. Those are the folks who have been working on everything we’ve done for the last 50 years. They know how it can be done.

    Lockheed and the JSF - so good for America!

    Jesus christ what a shithead.

  • Anacreon||

    What is Neil Armstrong afraid of? Maybe the fact that OJ Simpson is an astronaut in that movie.

  • ||

    As you'll recall from the movie, when James Brolin was handing out weapons, O.J. got the knife.

  • ||

    Are you technically an astronaut if you never go into space because the Mars landing is faked by Hal Holbrook?

  • ||

    Armstrong's always been a bit of prick hasn't he?

    When you're an astronaut, you make an as out of tron and aut.

  • The Hammer||

    Did that seem funnier during the stroke?

  • ||

    +1

    He won't sign autographs for little kids

  • General Butt Naked||

    I always liked Buzz better anyways.

    Especially when he knocked that moon-troofer out.

    Buzz is actually an interesting guy, as well. If you ever see him giving a long form interview watch it.

    Speaking of...

    Here he is on Charlie Rose. Not the best but still interesting.

  • toxic||

    Personally, the fact that we have private space companies is a lot more exciting than some government space program. It's like the difference between buying your own food and being on food stamps.

    On a side note, NASA had thirty years to develop the next level of human space travel, and they ended up launching a bunch of rusty jalopies that blew up on reentry. It's weird that it's SpaceX that caused that...

  • General Butt Naked||

    Agree.

    With private space travel you know that you have an infinitesimal, but not zero, chance of actually going into space. That is exciting.

  • Brandybuck||

    Yeah, imagine if all boats were government boats, all cars were government cars, all airplanes were government airplanes. It would be ridiculous. But that's what Armstrong wants for spacecraft. He wants NASA to be the Amtrak and Conrail of space.

  • Rabban||

    First! Also commercial space exploration starts to make sense once it starts bring back He3 from the moon, but that's going to take a long time and tons of money. Too bad we are stuck using chemical propellant.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Supposedly there are working design for nuclear engines, but some treaty or other disallows their testing and usage.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    The problem is that if the rocket fails it explodes radioactive waste into the atmosphere.

  • ||

    Why didn't Neil Armstrong leave his Lunar Module Pilot on the moon when he left?

    Because it would have been a Buzzkill!

  • Randian||

    Stick to immigration policy - that's your strong suit.

  • ||

    I guess I won't be here all week.

  • MWG||

    Meh, old curmudgeons are old curmudgeons.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Get off my crater!

  • Jingles||

    Tell me where their marketplace is. A commercial venture is supposed to use private money. And who are their users? Suppose we, NASA, have no need for their services. There’s no other marketplace for them. Oh good god. This asshole hasn't heard of DirecTV?
  • Jingles||

    Derp. Last two sentences are supposed to be outside the quote.

  • Sevo||

    I got it.

  • ||

    Yeah. That's pretty ignorant. According to Musk, commercial launches make up about 2/3 of their business.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Neil Armstrong I put in same category as Stephen King: They're great at their day-jobs, but their political moonlighting leaves much to be desired.

  • Xenocles||

    So that's about what, 95% of famous people?

  • SKR||

    More like 20%. I agree with 95% of their political moonlighting being crap, but not 95% being good at their day jobs.

  • Xenocles||

    Fair enough, I guess.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Armstrong's actions demonstrate that he was the face, front man, for a worthless bureaucracy.

    How pathetic.

  • ||

    I agree that thinking space is going to be the place our species escapes to requires you to ignore the immeasurable worse-ness of space relative to even the harshest environments on this planet.

    By that logic, we shouldn't be drilling for oil in Saudi Arabia or ANWR, or mining valuable metals or minerals in other places with really crappy weather.

    The solar system is full of completely unexploited resources -- if those resources can be profitably extracted and sent back to Earth despite the immense costs imposed by working in airless vacuums near absolute zero, then some entrepreneur will do so.

    And, outside the solar system are entire Earth-like planets waiting to be colonized.

  • WWNGD?||

    Obviously you have never watched "Red Dwarf", they mined space.

  • ||

    I agree with you. The italicized comments are Tim Cavanaugh's, followed by my pointing out that it might be possible to create huge amounts wealth from stuff in space.

  • Alan||

    Besides, it's not so much about getting away from earth - it's about getting away from the people on earth.

  • some guy||

    I don't think working in space is the real driver of cost. It's getting your gear into space that makes things so expensive. Currently we can pump oil up from miles beneath the ocean where conditions are arguably even more extreme than in space.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think some of the old timers, who remember the great depression and World War II, remember a time when private enterprise couldn't deliver much in the way of advancement during the great depression and then remember the government doing things like inventing the atom bomb and winning World War II.

    That's my theory as to their bias against private enterprise and in favor of government, anyway.

    Kids are so impressionable.

  • Sevo||

    ..."when private enterprise couldn't deliver much in the way of advancement during the great depression"...

    Thanks to that hero of political process, FDR!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Anyone capable of forming an opinion like that from their own experience would be in their nineties or older now.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Armstrong was born in 1930.

    I clued into libertarianism after reading "Free to Choose", when I was 13.

    Kids are really impressionable. My grandmother never really trusted the banks. And the FDIC didn't impress her one bit either.

  • Killazontherun||

    That's the one I gave my nephew when we sent him off to college. Just earlier today he thanked me for it for setting him straight.

  • jasno||

    I wonder how much they're bothered to see some run-of-the-mill private company pull off what in their time was considered nearly a feat of magic. I think they like to think that space is hard, but it really isn't simply because the techniques haven't changed much over the last 40 years - thanks in part to NASA.

  • robc||

    How much of that was due to the government using the brightest to develop the bomb?

    If everyone on the Manhattan Project had been working in the private sector, imagine the developments that would have been made. While I think the cost was worth it, it turns out in hindsight that we didnt need the bomb to beat the Germans or the Japanese.

    Government projects come with a cost and it just isnt in dollars.

    In some cases, like fighting WW2, the cost is one worth paying. In most cases, not so much.

  • 2ndClassProle||

    What will be really cool is when Armstrong dies, it will be a SpaceX rocket that spreads his ashes into space.

  • The Hammer||

    Over his dead body! Oh, right...

  • Sevo||

    Didn't really know much about the guy, but the wiki bio pretty much says the guy's been sucking at the tax-payer teat from day one.
    No great surprise he's pissed that people can do what he did without nursing.
    Tired old twit; nothing more.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I can't quite besmirch Armstrong past his politics. He signed up for things as they happened and he did every job he was given well. Not much more you can ask for someone who doesn't give orders but executes them, and there's more of that than other way around in the world.

    Word is Armstrong got the First Man gig instead of Buzz precisely because he was the anti-prima donna milquetoast. Perfect Tool basically.

    But there's just no way to spin it, that dude got to do probably one of the top ten coolest things any man has ever done. Good for him, he earned his luck.

  • ||

    Ah yes. ATK and NASA. The people who brought you the Challenger disaster. Oooh. Or we could discuss Apollo I. Fuck off, slavers.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I always regretted going to the Moon. Nothing up there but dry rocks and those revolting onion men.

  • Gladstone||

    Well you can just kill the Selenites with umbrellas can't you?

  • Anacreon||

    You East Coast intellectuals had your chance. Now beat it! From here on in, this is a military matter.

  • Gladstone||

    Armstrong apparently describes himself as a "Jeffersonian Republican."

  • General Butt Naked||

    Sounds like old-man code for 'racist'.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Perhaps Eugene Cernan is the foil, the equally incoherent Wilsonian Republican.

  • General Butt Naked||

    "You say all these different words but all I hear is "communist" over and over again."

  • Gladstone||

    I thought I got the info from wikipedia. It does mention that he supports State's Rights and doesn't like the US as being the World's policeman so there you go.

    Also Republican was one of the many names for Jefferson's followers until about the 1840s when the party of Jackson and Van Buren became the known as the Democratic Party. The current Republican party chose its name to connect itself with Jefferson, as supposed to the Federalists.

  • Killazontherun||

    For my long ass, retardly misdirected essay size post on the last point Mr C. addressed, please go here:

    http://reason.com/archives/201.....nt_3062415

  • General Butt Naked||

    Oh man, that sux. Well, I read it if that makes you feel any better.

    You should check out a book called Diaspora by Greg Egan. It's about humanity after we've gone digital, and the space faring that would be possible if you could implant your consciousness into a nearly indestructible nanoparticle. A really good read; I'm thinking of reading it again as it's been a few years.

  • Killazontherun||

    That does indeed make me feel better.

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