A group that includes the first space shuttle pilot, the last man to walk on the moon and a former NASA Administrator endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today, saying the former Massachusetts governor would ensure "America will once again lead the world in space."
Veteran shuttle mission commander and pilot Bob Crippen, Apollo 17 mission commander Gene Cernan, former NASA chief Mike Griffin and five others issued an open letter of support for Romney, who is campaigning today on Florida's Space Coast.
"We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission," the letter says. "This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation."
Read the full text of the letter HERE
President Barack Obama canceled a Bush Administration program aimed at returning American astronauts to the moon by 2020. The White House said the program could not be executed within the available budget.
President Obama then charted a new course for NASA, directing the agency to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s. He allowed a Bush Administration decision to end the shuttle program after the completion of International Space Station assembly to remain in place. The U.S. will pay Russia to fly American astronauts on round trips to the station until private-sector companies, using NASA seed money, develop commercial space taxis. That effort is expected to take at least another five years.
Romney this week said he believes in a "very vibrant and strong space program." But he dismissed as too expensive the idea of building a lunar colony by 2020 -- an idea introduced earlier this week by opponent Newt Gingrich.
"That's an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the Space Coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I'd like to bring in the -- the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we're doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs," Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
"And -- and finally of course, the -- the people from -- the administration if I had an administration. I'd like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I'd like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a -- in a part -- in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I -- I believe in a manned space program. I'd like to see whether they believe in the same thing.
I'm not -- I'm not looking for a -- a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S."
Joining Crippen, Cernan and Griffin in endorsing Romney were:
++Scott Pace, Chair of the Romney Space Policy Advisory Group
Director, Space Policy Institute, The Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University
Former Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Chairman of the Board, USSpace
Former Executive Secretary, National Space Council
Chairman and CEO, Space Adventures
Chairman, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
Former Director of Space Policy, National Security Council
Former Director of Special Programs, Department of Defense
Associate Professor of International Security Studies, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
Former Alan B. Shepard Chair of Space Technology and Policy Studies, Naval War College