June 20, 2012
801 Texas Ave.
Houston, TX 77002
Dear Mr. Berger,
Recently you published an article that took note of an interview with
Elon Musk that appeared on 60 Minutes. We’re glad you noticed our
reporting on SpaceX Corporation. Because you are interested in the
privatization of manned space flight I wanted to make you aware of
something that we should have made more clear in our story.
Part of our interview dealt with the congressional testimony of Neil
Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Both raised concerns about the Obama
administration program. Part of Armstrong’s testimony included this:
“I am very concerned that the new plan, as I understand it, will
prohibit us from having human access to low Earth orbit on our own
rockets and spacecraft until the private aerospace industry is able to
qualify their hardware under development as rated for human
occupancy. I support the encouragement of the newcomers toward
their goal of lower-cost access to space. But having cut my teeth in
rockets more than 50 years ago, I am not confident. The most
experienced rocket engineers with whom I have spoken believe that it
will require many years and substantial investment to reach the
necessary level of safety and reliability.”
In our 60 Minutes story on SpaceX, I reminded Elon Musk of the
criticism. The quote of my question is:
“Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, have both testified against
commercial space flight in the way you are developing it, and I
wonder what you think of that?”
We should have made it explicit in our story that, while Armstrong
was “not confident” that the newcomers could achieve safety and cost
goals in the near term, he did want to “encourage” them. We also
should have spelled out more clearly that his concerns were directed
toward the “newcomers” in general and not SpaceX in particular.
Armstrong contacted us after our story to say that many people have
misconstrued his position as a result of what we said on 60 Minutes.
We agree he has a point. I wanted to give you a little more clarity on
this in the event you continue to write about the subject.
If you feel publishing this note would be a service to your readers,
please feel free to do so.