WASHINGTON -- Like many Americans, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) celebrated NASA's successful spacecraft visit to Pluto this week.
The images that New Horizons captured "represent a historic achievement for U.S. space exploration," said Rubio in a statement. "My hope is that many young people across this country and the world will see these images of Pluto and feel that American science, ingenuity and daring are alive and well."
"Space exploration is and has always been an important venture for our country," the 2016 Republican contender continued. "It opens the door for an unparalleled level of innovation, research and understanding. By investing in our nation’s brightest scientists and ambitious endeavors, we can accomplish ground-breaking space missions like this probe visit to Pluto."
But Rubio has voiced support for budgets, such as the 2012 budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), that included funding cuts for NASA in the past -- cuts that NASA said could imperil core programs. He's argued for maintaining funding at sequester levels, which would have meant major funding cuts for the agency.
In July 2013, Rubio also co-sponsored a failed amendment to the markup of the NASA authorization bill within the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that would have kept agency funding at sequestration levels. The senator from Florida acknowledged that this was a contradiction to the usual hometown protectionism.
"This is my first NASA authorization bill, and being a senator from Florida, that means a lot," he said, according to the website Space Politics. "It’s unfortunate that my first vote on this may be a partisan one."
To be fair, budget plans that have taken an ax to NASA's funding have most often targeted their work with planet Earth -- specifically, climate change. Those proposals have maintained funding for space exploration while cutting earth sciences spending.
While NASA is one of the country's leading scientific agencies in advancing our understanding of climate change, Rubio shuns the findings of the agency's scientists. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," Rubio said last year.
Democrats pointed to the disconnect as evidence of hypocrisy. "Marco Rubio says he wants to launch us into the future -- but the gravitational pull of his backward anti-science agenda is going to suck us into a black hole," said Christina Freundlich, southern regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.
Rubio's Senate office and campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.