The White House and NASA on Tuesday defended comments that the nation's top space official made on the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera about one of his "foremost" tasks being to reach out to the Muslim world.
NASA chief Charles Bolden's remarks caused a stir among commentators.
"When I became the NASA administrator, (President Obama) charged me with three things," Bolden said in the interview which aired last week. "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, math and engineering."
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."
White House spokeswoman Moira Mack said the president's intention is collaboration.
"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," Mack wrote in an e-mail.