Sen. Rockefeller Tells Neil Armstrong: America's Drive to Explore is Not All 'Glorious'
May 17, 2010 - 4:38 PMDemocratic Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he is "a substantial skeptic of human spaceflight" and that not all outlets of American exploration are "glorious."
Rockefeller made his remarks during a hearing last week where astronauts Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon, testified against President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget because it would cancel NASA’s Constellation manned space program.
“I am not a huge, but I am a substantial, skeptic of human spaceflight,” Rockefeller told Armstrong, Cernan, and Norman R. Augustine, the chairman of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.
“We’re approximately the same generation, but that’s where I am,” Rockefeller said. “I cannot support going into space as an end in and of itself. I agree with the president that we need a measured, nationally, globally relevant and sustainable human space flight program--not one solely bound by place and time in space.”
Chairman Rockefeller then said to the astronauts, “I want to understand the value of human space flight.”
Cernan responded to Rockefeller by saying that today’s communications technology was born from space exploration.
“The technology that I have in my iPhone today is technology that was given birth to 30, 40, 50 years ago,” said Cernan.
“Exploration drives technology, innovation, not the reverse,” he said. “You can’t lock a group of the most smartest young men and women in the world in a room -- engineers, scientists, technicians -- and say, ‘go develop technology,’ for what? There has to be a purpose, just like there has to be a purpose in life.”
Cernan also said that when there is an established space flight mission, NASA creates new technologies to accomplish its goals and society benefits from its work.
“They have to know what they are trying to accomplish, what their goal is, what the problems are, and then develop the technology that gets the job done,” said Cernan. “Going to the moon – the technology that we developed to go to the moon, whether it was material – look at, walk in our hospitals today. Walk in our classrooms today. Does that benefit our, is that a benefit to us humans here on this Earth today? I like to think it is.”
Rockefeller responded to Cernan at the end of the hearing by suggesting that not all exploration is “glorious.”
“I just want to say in parting, not to rebut anything that’s been said, that exploration is a broad word,” said Rockefeller. “The American search for newness finds many outlets, most of them quite glorious, but not all of them.”