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Buzz Aldrin gets ride on Air Force One

By Suzanne Malveaux, CNN White House Correspondent
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Aldrin backs commercial space flight
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Apollo astronaut getting a lift to Kennedy Space Center as president hopes for PR lift
  • Aldrin says he backs Obama plan "lowering the cost of access to space"
  • Obama proposal cancels Bush plan to return U.S. astronauts to moon by 2020
  • Three other astronauts call new plan "devastating" to the U.S. space program

Apollo Astronaut Buzz Aldrin gives his take on the future of America's space program to CNN's Larry King tonight. Watch "Larry King Live" at 9 ET Thursday on CNN.

(CNN) -- Buzz Aldrin is used to traveling on high-profile missions. His 240,000-mile trip to the moon on July 20, 1969, set the precedent.

On Thursday, Aldrin is hitching a ride aboard Air Force One to Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the invitation of President Obama, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

It appears to be just one of the perks for being on Obama's side of the controversy over the president's new space program, which cancels former President George W. Bush's plan to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Aldrin supports Obama's new space policy, and over the last 48 hours, the White House has made extraordinary efforts publicizing his position.

Aides flooded the White House press corps Wednesday with e-mails, forwarding Aldrin's letter to the president.

In the letter, Aldrin writes, "As an Apollo astronaut, I know full well the importance of always exploring new frontiers and tackling new challenges as we explore space. The simple truth is that we have already been to the Moon -- some 40 years ago. What this nation needs in order to maintain its position as the 21st century leader in space exploration is a near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies that will take us further and faster. ... The President's program will help us be in this endeavor for the long haul and will allow us to again push our boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth."

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Aldrin has an op-ed Thursday in USA Today reinforcing his stance.

Putting Aldrin in the spotlight is critical for the White House, which finds itself, so far, on the losing end of the public relations battle.

Those opposing Obama's new space policy have tremendous prestige. They include Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk the moon; Jim Lovell, the commander of the famous Apollo 13 flight; and Gene Cernan, the last human to step on the moon's surface.

The three astronauts sent an open letter to Obama calling his plan "devastating" to the U.S. space program.

They write that "while the President's plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years. Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. ..."

When asked if the president received Armstrong's open letter criticizing his new approach to human space exploration, a White House official said, "I don't think we ever got it."

But the White House is getting the message that a lot of people are worried about Obama's new direction in space exploration, so Obama is making the trip to Kennedy Space Center, with supporter Aldrin as his wingman.

 
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