Page last updated at 03:34 GMT, Saturday, 13 March 2010

Obama Nasa plans 'catastrophic' say Moon astronauts

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Eugene Cernan: "I am absolutely committed to the fact that we will go back at sometime"

Former Nasa astronauts who went to the Moon have told the BBC of their dismay at President Barack Obama's decision to push back further Moon missions.

Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, said Mr Obama's decision would have "catastrophic consequences" for US space exploration.

The last man on the Moon, Eugene Cernan, said it was "disappointing".

Last month Mr Obama cancelled Nasa's Constellation Moon landings programme, approved by ex-President George W Bush.

Nasa still aims to send astronauts back to the Moon, but it is likely to take decades and some believe that it will never happen again.

'Moral leadership'

The astronauts spoke to the BBC at a private event at the Royal Society in London on Friday organised by the Foundation for Science and Technology.

It will have catastrophic consequences in our ability to explore space and the spin-offs we get from space technology
Jim Lovell
Apollo 13 commander

They were joined there by the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.

As the last astronaut to return to the Apollo 17 lunar module in 1972, Cernan was the last man to set foot on the Moon.

"I'm quite disappointed that I'm still the last man on the Moon," he said. "I thought we'd have gone back long before now."

So why does he believe Americans should go back to the Moon?

Ares I-X test flight (Nasa)
The proposed Ares-1 rocket has been cancelled by Mr Obama

"I think America has a responsibility to maintain its leadership in technology and its moral leadership... to seek knowledge. Curiosity's the essence of human existence."

It is a view shared by fellow Apollo Astronaut Jim Lovell, the heroic commander of Apollo 13.

"Personally I think it will have catastrophic consequences in our ability to explore space and the spin-offs we get from space technology," he said.

"They haven't thought through the consequences."

Lunar dream alive

Although Cernan and Lovell expressed their dismay with President Obama's decision, Mr Armstrong tactfully avoided the subject.

When he set foot on the Moon in July 1969, it seemed as if humanity would soon colonise other worlds.

By 1994, when I interviewed him for the first time, he said: "The reality may have faded. But the dream is still there and it will come back in time."

But with the cancellation of Nasa's Constellation programme to return Americans to the moon by 2020, who is to inspire the next generation?

Nasa still aims to send astronauts back to the Moon, using Nasa to provide incentives and oversight to the private sector for launch services.

It is likely to take some time, however.

Until then we will have the epic tales of Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan and the rest of the Apollo astronaut corps to remind us that all things are possible - and despite the current pause in human spaceflight to other worlds, the dream is still there.

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