NASA official criticizes cuts to budget in visit to L.A. area

NASA official criticizes cuts to budget in visit to L.A. area
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden criticizes budget cuts during a visit to the Aerojet Rocketdyne facility in Canoga Park. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited a rocket engine factory in Canoga Park on Thursday that could benefit as congressional Republicans push the agency to spend more federal money visiting other planets and less on studying our own.

The factory operated by Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactures engines that will be used on NASA's gigantic rocket known as the Space Launch System, which is being developed for deep space missions.


During his visit, Bolden continued his criticism of a recent move by the House Appropriations committee to slash the space agency's budget for earth science, which includes studies of how the Earth's climate is changing.

The House committee voted last week to make those cuts, while also giving the agency more than it requested for the Space Launch System and future missions to Mars and Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.

Bolden said Thursday that he welcomed the extra money for the Space Launch System, but said the cuts to earth science studies, which include satellites that monitor soil moisture, ice and water in underground aquifers, were devastating.

He said the cuts would hurt research looking at the earth's weather, including the ongoing drought in California.

"We're in crisis out here now," he said of the state's water shortage. "A half-billion dollars cut out of the earth science budget is not wise."

The House committee also voted to give NASA $240 million less than Bolden had requested to pay for the contracts the agency awarded to SpaceX and Boeing Co. to develop new astronaut shuttles. The new spacecraft will fly astronauts to the International Space Station – work the agency currently pays Russia to do.

If Congress doesn't restore the funding to the requested $1.24 billion, Bolden said, the first commercial flight by SpaceX or Boeing could be delayed a year to 2018.

"If they don't fund it fully, then some milestones won't be done on time and we won't fly in 2017," Bolden said. "And we'll write another check to the Russians."

The full House must still vote on NASA's budget. The Senate is also working on its version of the agency's budget.

Bolden noted that Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured the Space Shuttle's main engine, known as the RS-25, beginning in the 1970s. Four of those engines will also power the Space Launch System, which NASA is designing to be the world's mightiest rocket.

Bolden said he visited the company's factory on De Soto Avenue because NASA considers the company a "heritage institution."

"We don't design and build engines," Bolden said of NASA. "We're dependent on our industry partners."

On Thursday, Bolden also visited Northrop Grumman's facility known as Space Park in Redondo Beach. Northrop is the primary contractor on what is planned to be the most powerful space telescope ever built.

Known as the James Webb Space Telescope, the device is designed to observe the most distant objects in the universe and provide images of the first galaxies that were formed.