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Nasa too old and bureaucratic to get back to Moon, warns Apollo team

Sarah Knapton
 NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine - AFP

Nasamay be too old and too bureaucratic to reach the Moon within five years, astronauts who flew on the Apollo mission and members of mission control have warned. 

In March, Mike Pence, the US Vice President, called for a human return to the Moon by 2024, dramatically accelerating the agency’s space exploration plans.

At the time, Pence said a ‘new sense of urgency’ similar to that of the Apollo was needed, to make sure the next moonwalkers would be ‘Americans, launched by American rockets, from American soil.”

But Gerry Griffin, 84, flight director for the Apollo programme, said the organisation had grown too old, and was lacking leadership for a new mission. 

“One of the major keys to Apollo success was leadership," he said. "And Nasa has lost it now. Any organisation as it grows older is subject to too many decisions not made at the right level.

"In Apollo we pushed the decisions down. There was that trust. As we get older every organisation wants to pull up decisions to the level where frankly they don’t have the right skills to make those decisions. 

"Apollo had a clear goal which kept us together. We didn’t know we couldn’t do it. The people at Nasa right now, they need to be given a goal."

Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt collects lunar rock samples during his 1972 mission to the Moon  Credit: AFP

Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, 83, who flew on the final Apollo mission in December 1972, and is a member of the advisory group to the National Space Council, which reports to Pence, said he was worried the organisation was not in place to get back so soon.

“It is achievable if you organise to do it,” he said.

“We’re a lot smarter now than we were during Apollo and Apollo happened in eight years so if Nasa could organise itself like we were organised in Apollo, that was a very rapid growth and response, then yes it’s doable. 

“I just don’t know whether the administration is going to insist that Nasa organises itself to get that job done, we’ll just have go wait and see.

“It’s older, it’s an old agency, and Apollo was a young agency. The average age of the 400,000 Americans working  on Apollo, was less than 30 years old, in Mission Control during the Apollo 13 crisis the average age was 26 years.  

“It’s a young person's activity. Young people not only had the knowledge but they had the courage and the stamina and the patriotism frankly to make it happen. 

“As you get older things change, you don’t get things done as fast, and plus the management environment in Nasa is bureaucratic,  much more so than it was during Apollo.”