The White House and NASA today defended comments by National Aeronautic Space Administration administrator Charles Bolden about reaching out to the Muslim world – comments that conservatives criticized as undermining NASA’s mission.
A few days ago, in Cairo, Bolden told Al Jazeera that when he became the NASA administrator, President Obama charged him with three things: "One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering."
This was part of President Obama’s desire, as stated in his Cairo address last year, to begin a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world, Bolden said.
Bolden told Al Jazeera that this mission had nothing to do with diplomacy, but rather was rooted in expanding US outreach for tangible reasons. The international space station, he said, is a conglomerate of 15-plus nations, including the Russians and Japanese. Bolden said his mission to the Muslim world is a “matter of trying to reach out and try to get the best of all worlds.” No nation will make it to Mars on its own, he said.
But the comments have caused a kafuffle. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York interviewed former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who headed the space agency during the last four years of the administration of President George W. Bush, who called Bolden’s stated charge for NASA a “perversion of NASA’s purpose.”
“NASA was chartered by the 1958 Space Act to develop the arts and sciences of flight in the atmosphere and in space and to go where those technologies will allow us to go,” Griffin said “That’s what NASA does for the country. It is a perversion of NASA’s purpose to conduct activities in order to make the Muslim world feel good about its contributions to science and mathematics.” Griffin made clear he was criticizing the policy, not Bolden, whom he praised.
On Fox News Channel, commentator Charles Krauthammer called Bolden’s comments “a new height of fatuousness. NASA was established to get America into space and to keep us there. This idea of 'to feel good about your past scientific achievements' is the worst kind of group therapy, psycho-babble, imperial condescension and adolescent diplomacy. If I didn't know that Obama had told him this, I'd demand the firing of Charles Bolden. The way I would of Michael Steele. This is absolutely unbelievable."
NASA assistant administrator for public affairs Bob Jacobs told ABC News that “Administrator Bolden understands that NASA's core mission is exploration, both in space and in scientific endeavors here at home. Inherent to the success of that mission is cooperation and collaboration with other nations which are equally committed to this effort, including expanding the range of countries with which NASA engages and partners.”
In response to criticism, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement that “The President has always said that he wants NASA to engage with the world’s best scientists and engineers as we work together to push the boundaries of exploration. Meeting that mandate requires NASA to partner with countries around the world like Russia and Japan, as well as collaboration with Israel and with many Muslim-majority countries. The space race began as a global competition, but, today, it is a global collaboration.”
Another response was offered by the liberal media monitoring group Media Matters, which wrote a story titled “Yet again, an Obama official says ‘Muslim,’ right-wing media freak-out follows.”