WASHINGTON – White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday that NASA administrator Charles Bolden was wrong to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority of the U.S. space agency.
Bolden raised eyebrows in the space community and outrage among conservative pundits by telling Al-Jazeera television recently President Barack Obama had instructed him to work for better outreach with the Muslim world.
He said Obama told him one of his top priorities was 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, math and engineering."
Improving relations with the Muslim world was a top foreign policy priority for Obama on taking office last year and he delivered a major speech on the topic in Cairo in June 2009.
The White House last week sought to clarify Bolden's comment, saying Obama wanted NASA to engage with the world's best scientists and engineers from countries like Russia and Japan, Israel and many Muslim-majority countries.
That failed to end the controversy.
Gibbs, at his daily news briefing, was asked why Bolden had made the comment.
"It's an excellent question, and I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA," Gibbs said.
Many in the U.S. space community, such as moon astronaut Neil Armstrong, are disgruntled by Obama's proposals to bolster support for private space companies and abandon an over-budget NASA moon program.
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