Texas dirt, the new frontier.

The new frontier.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner nailed NASA’s administrator during a budget hearing Thursday for allowing the space agency to float away from its central focus — outer space.

NASA is asking Congress to increase its budget 40 percent for Earth science spending, which had some GOP senators scratching their heads and hanging on just a little tighter to the taxpayer’s wallet.

The trick used by most agency chiefs to get their funding requests is to dangle local projects that would benefit from the largesse, but this is where NASA administrator Charles Bolden made his mistake.

Bolden proudly presented the Texas Soil Observation network to Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, as an example of their Earth spending priorities.

“Are we focusing on the heavens in NASA, or are we focusing on dirt in Texas?” asked Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), as he also raised questions about NASA spending resources on water management in California and more. “Are there any other agencies looking at soil in Texas?”

“I get your drift,” said a somewhat peeved Bolden, who didn’t realize he had handed Gardner a verbal tool to use on the space agency chief.

“Drift is a good point,” said Gardner. “It seems NASA has drifted away from its core mission.”

Well played senator, well played. NASA should be paying more attention to Major Tom and less on Ground Control.