Neil Armstrong has renewed his criticism of Barack Obama's space vision, insisting that the president's decision to scrap Constellation and head off to Mars was "poorly advised".
Speaking yesterday to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Armstrong said: "I have yet to find a person in NASA, the Defense Department, the Air Force, the National Academies, industry, or academia that had any knowledge of the plan prior to its announcement.
"A plan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small group in secret who persuaded the president that this was a unique opportunity to put his stamp on a new and innovative program. I believe the President was poorly advised."
Armstrong went on to insist that the US was effectively throwing away half a century of work which had allowed it to "acquire a position of leadership in space". He lamented: "If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is allowed simply to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that this would be in our best interests."
The veteran astronaut's latest attack on his country's loss of direction comes after last month's open letter to Obama, in which he, Eugene Cernan and James Lovell warned of "a long downhill slide to mediocrity" which would result from the loss of the the Ares I and V lifters.
Obama's bold plan is to outsource low-Earth orbit operations - such as supplying the International Space Station - to private enterprise, while concentrating on a new generation of heavy lifters capable of reaching Mars. The only part of Constellation spared the chop is the Orion crew capsule, although it will now serve as merely an ISS lifeboat, rather than as part of a manned return to the Moon.
Despite Armstrong's assertions, White House science adviser John Holdren told the Senate Committee his boss's decision "was not hasty", and that those consulted included NASA chief Charles Bolden.
He said: "The president heard from a lot of people in this process. He got to the best and most balanced program for NASA, including its human spaceflight dimension, that the country can afford."
It's evident that space vets will take some convincing. Apollo 17 commander Cernan was also on hand to weigh in with: "We (Armstrong, Lovell and myself) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere." ®