WASHINGTON -- The chairman of a House panel that makes decisions about NASA's budget said Wednesday that he opposed a White House plan to cut spending on aeronautics research next year at the U.S. space agency.
The NASA budget request the White House sent to Congress in February would cut aeronautics spending by $67 million in 2006 to $852 million. In 2007, according to White House projections, aeronautics spending would drop a further $191 million to $728 million before leveling off.
U.S. lawmakers from California, Ohio and Virginia --- three states with NASA field centers heavily involved in aeronautics research - have vowed to fight the cuts.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations science, state, justice and commerce subcommittee, said during a hearing on NASA's 2006 budget request that he would push for holding aeronautics spending steady through next year at $906 million, the amount Congress ultimately approved for 2005.
Wolf also said he would work with other congressional committees on legislative language requiring the Bush Administration to come up with a national policy for aeronautics. Wolf said the United States should not cut aeronautics spending, close down test facilities and layoff engineers and other specialists until it has a clearer idea of where it is heading in aeronautics.
Wolf also said he was unhappy about cuts to NASA's Earth science program, in particular the decision to cancel the Glory climate-monitoring satellite mission that had been slated for a 2007 launch. NASA has said it will continue to develop Glory's main instrument, a greenhouse gas sensor, while looking for other ways to put the instrument in orbit short of launching a dedicated satellite.
Wolf said he was displeased with NASA's plan. "If these flights of opportunity don't materialize, then we will have wasted over $50 million building the instruments."
The White House is asking for $16.4 billion for NASA for 2006, an increase of 2.4 percent.
Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, pointed out that the proposed increase, while bigger than what most federal agencies can expect this year, is about $500 million less than what the White House had previously planned to request for NASA next year.
He said that he was concerned that NASA was not being realistic about what it needs to fund its existing programs while getting started on a new space exploration initiative that calls for building a space shuttle replacement in the decade ahead and sending astronauts to the Moon by 2020.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was on his way back from Kennedy Space Center Wednesday morning and did not testify at the hearing. His deputy, Fred Gregory, appeared in his place, along with Steve Isakowitz, NASA's comptroller before moving to the number two slot in the agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate earlier this year.