NASA official backed after saying outreach to Muslims is a priority

(JTA) — The White House and NASA reportedly are standing behind NASA’s administrator for saying that his "foremost" mission is to reach out to the Muslim world.

In a June 30 interview on June 30 with Al Jazeera, Charles Bolden said that "When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — (President Obama) charged me with three things. One was 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."

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro, in a written statement Tuesday to Fox News, stood by Bolden, saying that Obama "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," Shapiro said.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs drew a distinction between the priorities of outreach that Bolden was speaking of during the Al Jazeera interview and NASA’s primary missions of "science, aeronautics and space exploration."

Bolden has asserted on previous occasions that he was charged by Obama with outreach to Muslim countries, Fox reported.

The former head of NASA, Michael Griffin, told Fox News on Tuesday that the idea that an agency priority should be outreach to Muslim countries is "deeply flawed."

NASA "represents the best of America," Griffin said. "Its purpose is not to inspire Muslims or any other cultural entity."

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