First Moon Man Backs Bush Plan

In this photo taken, Aug. 14, 2008, Casey Johnson arrives at the grand opening of Apple Lounge in West Hollywood, Calif.
AP Photo/Dan Steinberg
Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, says Americans should support an ambitious plan for renewed moon missions and journeys to worlds beyond.

The plan proposed by President Bush would help the nation's space program rebound from the shuttle disaster over Texas, said Armstrong, who currently lives in suburban Cincinnati.

Armstrong, who commanded NASA's 1969 Apollo 11 mission, said Thursday the plan is economically sustainable and the country must accept the risks that accompany space exploration in order to reap technological rewards. Armstrong, 73, was in Houston on Thursday night to receive the National Space Trophy.

The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement is presented annually to an American for career contributions in aerospace.

Under Armstrong's command, Apollo 11 touched down on the moon's Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, with the United States victorious in its Cold War space race with the former Soviet Union.

"Our president has introduced a new initiative with renewed emphasis on the exploration of our solar system and expansion of human frontiers. This proposal has substantial merit and promise," he told almost 600 NASA, corporate and military aerospace professionals.

Mr. Bush in January proposed an extra $1 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration over the next five years for the new space initiative. It calls for a return to the moon by human explorers by 2020 and possibly as early as 2015. The moon would be a staging area for later explorations of Mars, asteroids and other deep space destinations.

Lawmakers have questioned proposed costs and risks.

"Our economy can certainly afford an effort of this magnitude, but the public must believe the benefits to society deserve the investment," Armstrong said in Friday's online edition of the Houston Chronicle. "We know the advancement of knowledge and the rate of progress is proportional to the risk encountered. The public at large may well be more risk adverse than the individuals in our business, but to limit the program in the name of eliminating the risk is no virtue."

Armstrong's comments may put him at odds with fellow Ohioan and former astronaut John Glenn, who last week told a presidential commission the U.S. should not cut funding for the international space station in favor of moon and mars missions, as the president has proposed.

Armstrong, who left NASA in 1971 to pursue a teaching career in aeronautical engineering in Ohio and join several business ventures, said the space plan's success depends on whether the government, aerospace industry, researchers and others can unite behind it.

The space shuttle's fleet, under the president's plan, would be retired about 2010, when the international space station is assembled. The station's work would turn to medical research needed to protect astronauts as they head into deep space. A new interplanetary spacecraft would replace the shuttle and new robotic spacecraft would be launched to the moon and Mars.

Armstrong was a naval aviator during the Korean War and a test pilot with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. He was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1962, and earned high marks — and the moon mission — for his piloting on the near disastrous March 1966 Gemini VIII mission. The craft became the first to dock in orbit with another spacecraft, but then began to spin wildly. Armstrong and co-pilot Dave Scott brought it back under control.