Neil Armstrong Clarification: First Moonwalker Wants to "Encourage Newcomers."


You can't see it but Neil Armstrong is actually smiling about the future of private space.

I was hoping a letter in my inbox from 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley was a job offer, but it turns out he was just interested in my recent post about the frosty relationship between private space entrepreneurs and NASA veterans Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Chris Kraft:

Recently you published an article that took note of an interview with Elon Musk that appeared on 60 Minutes. We're glad you noticed our reporting on SpaceX Corporation. Because you are interested in the privatization of manned space flight I wanted to make you aware of something that we should have made more clear in our story.

Part of our interview dealt with the congressional testimony of Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Both raised concerns about the Obama administration program. Part of Armstrong's testimony included this:

"I am very concerned that the new plan, as I understand it, will prohibit us from having human access to low Earth orbit on our own rockets and spacecraft until the private aerospace industry is able to qualify their hardware under development as rated for human occupancy. I support the encouragement of the newcomers toward their goal of lower-cost access to space. But having cut my teeth in rockets more than 50 years ago, I am not confident. The most experienced rocket engineers with whom I have spoken believe that it will require many years and substantial investment to reach the necessary level of safety and reliability."

In our 60 Minutes story on SpaceX, I reminded Elon Musk of the criticism. The quote of my question is:

"Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, have both testified against commercial space flight in the way you are developing it, and I wonder what you think of that?"

We should have made it explicit in our story that, while Armstrong was "not confident" that the newcomers could achieve safety and cost goals in the near term, he did want to "encourage" them. We also should have spelled out more clearly that his concerns were directed toward the "newcomers" in general and not SpaceX in particular.

Armstrong contacted us after our story to say that many people have misconstrued his position as a result of what we said on 60 Minutes. We agree he has a point. I wanted to give you a little more clarity on this in the event you continue to write about the subject.

If you feel publishing this note would be a service to your readers, please feel free to do so. 

Kraft and Cernan, as you can see in the original post, still seem to be adamant in their view that space travel can't be trusted to just any slob in "Who Farted?" t-shirt. But it's good to hear Armstrong is willing to let somebody other than government employees slip the surly bonds of earth. And kudos to Pelley (who is also the only one of the Big Three anchorbots giving substantial play to the Fast and Furious debacle) for being scrupulous. 

No word on whether Armstrong is willing to let amateurs try this: