Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rubio: NASA needs to remain top priority.

Sen. Marco Rubio disagreed today with many of President Barack Obama's spending strategies to overcome the lingering recession, but said that NASA remains a top priority.

In the wake of Obama's State of the Union speech, the Florida Republican questioned any new spending on projects such as high-speed rail because of the country's growing debt.

With a vote pending in March on raising the national debt ceiling, Rubio said he wouldn't vote for a temporary extension without reducing spending.

"There's no shortage of good ideas," Rubio told reporters the morning after the speech. "What we've run out of is money."

But Rubio said NASA remains a funding priority because of military, national-security and economic benefits from the research and missions.

"It's a tremendous national interest for us," Rubio said. "Anything you invest in NASA is money that you are using that has the byproduct effect of creating spinoff opportunities in the private sector."

Obama and Congress agreed last year to support development of commercial rockets to reach the International Space Station after the shuttle program retires with three flights this year. The policy legislation also told NASA to build its own heavy-lift rocket to reach asteroids and Mars in future decades.

But Congress failed to agree on giving NASA any extra money, as Obama had proposed, so rocket development remains tentative.

Rubio said the space program must be supported and that Florida should remain a launch center.

"Launching rockets into space is not something we do for fun," Rubio said. "It's something we do because it's important from a military capability, from a national-security capability, and also a commercial and economic capability."

While supporting commercial rockets, Rubio said the country has a national-security interest in developing its own rockets.

"I don't think those two things are incompatible," Rubio said.

—Bart Jansen, Washingon.

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