Sunday, December 28, 2008

NASA's course: Neil Armstrong's View

Neil Armstrong had a letter in the Wall Street Journal for 27 Dec 08 in which he voiced optimism for the future of NASA. I can't link to the individual letter, only to the page, and can't reprint it for copyright reasons, so I will have to offer a digest of it.

His message to the incoming national leadership can be summarized as "You're not engineers: make the policy decisions and let the NASA folks work out the right path." He thought the transition team members "are neither aerospace engineers nor former program managers and cannot be sufficiently knowledgeable to make choices in the technical arena." He felt the agency, despite the constraints of finance, had the needed talent to succeed, and had developed a workable path to the Moon and Mars that should not be interfered with.

COMMENT: Armstrong's basic point - that political leaders should not try to be the engineers - is a good one, and I hope his letter will have some impact there. It would have been nice, given public pronouncements from Armstrong are guaranteed a wide readership, if he'd added that flat or declining NASA budgets would not permit the the engineers to pursue any path but the cheapest one (which invariably carries a high degree of risk). I've stated my personal opinion before - I hope President Obama will push for the significant increases for NASA that Candidate Obama promised, but I am highly skeptical that he will.

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