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US space programme 'embarrassing': Neil Armstrong

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Apollo 11 launch in 1969. A NASA photo

WASHINGTON (AFP): Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, told lawmakers Thursday that the end of the space shuttle era has left the American human spaceflight programme in an “embarrassing” state.

“We will have no American access to, and return from, low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for an unpredictable length of time in the future,” Armstrong told the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

“For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable.”

Armstrong was part of a four-member panel of space experts who told lawmakers that NASA needs a stronger vision for the future and should focus on returning humans to the Moon and to the International Space Station.

“A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain,” said the US astronaut, now 81, who was commander of Apollo 11 and walked on the Moon in 1969.

President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation programme that would have returned humans to the Moon and called on NASA to instead focus on new, deep-space capabilities to tote people to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by 2030.

The retirement in July of the three-decade-old space shuttle programme brought an end to the US capability to send humans to space until private industry can come up with a new commercial space capsule to the ISS, maybe by 2015.

In the meantime, Russia’s Soyuz capsules are the only taxis for the world’s astronauts heading to low-Earth orbit, and each ticket to the ISS costs global space agencies between 50 and 60 million dollars each.

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NASA  Space  ISS  
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