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Neil Armstrong to Testify at Senate Hearing on NASA

Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, is scheduled to testify before a U.S. Senate committee in Washington this week on the future of NASA, the panel said.

Armstrong, 79, will join Eugene Cernan, 76, the last man to walk on the lunar surface, at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing May 12 on President Barack Obama’s plan for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Cassie Harvey, a committee spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail.

Obama’s plan to scrap the Constellation plan to send astronauts back to the moon has drawn criticism from astronauts such as Armstrong and Cernan, who wrote to the president in opposition last month, and from legislators, including Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon on July 20, 1969. The astronaut limited his public appearances and refused media interviews after his return, and rarely wades into policy debates on NASA, although he served on panels that probed the accident that almost destroyed Apollo 13 in 1970 and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on liftoff in 1986.

Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmate Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, 80, the second man to walk on the moon, has come out in support of Obama’s plan.

‘Devastating’ Decision

In their letter to the president last month, Armstrong and Cernan said Obama’s decision to cancel Constellation is “devastating” and will reduce the U.S. to “second or even third-rate stature in space.”

Obama announced a plan in February for NASA that scrapped Constellation, a program developed under President George W. Bush that would have returned U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020 as a steppingstone for trips to Mars and further exploration of the solar system.

Instead, Obama directed the agency to focus on developing rocket systems that might eventually take humans into deep space and helping private companies build vessels to carry astronauts into orbit.

The two astronauts will be joined at the hearing by John Holdren, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and Norman Augustine, the former Lockheed Martin Corp. chairman who headed a presidential panel that issued a report last year on the future of the U.S. space program.

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