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July 6, 2010 / J. Shaw

Fmr NASA Director: NASA represents the best of America. Its purpose is not to inspire Muslims

The former head of NASA on Tuesday described as “deeply flawed” the idea that the space exploration agency’s priority should be outreach to Muslim countries, after current Administrator Charles Bolden made that assertion in an interview last month. 

“NASA … represents the best of America. Its purpose is not to inspire Muslims or any other cultural entity,” Michael Griffin, who served as NASA administrator during the latter half of the Bush administration, told 

Bolden created a firestorm after telling Al Jazeera last month that President Obama told him before he took the job that he wanted him to do three things: inspire children to learn math and science, expand international relationships 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 math and engineering.” 

Griffin said Tuesday that collaboration with other countries, including Muslim nations, is welcome and should be encouraged — but that it would be a mistake to prioritize that over NASA’s “fundamental mission” of space exploration. 

“If by doing great things, people are inspired, well then that’s wonderful,” Griffin said. “If you get it in the wrong order … it becomes an empty shell.” Griffin added: “That is exactly what is in danger of happening.” 

He also said that while welcome, Muslim-nation cooperation is not vital for U.S. advancements in space exploration. “There is no technology they have that we need,” Griffin said. 

Bolden denied the suggestion that he was on a diplomatic mission. “Not at all. It’s not a diplomatic anything,” he said. 

He also said the United States is not going to travel beyond low-Earth orbit on its own and that no country is going to make it to Mars without international help. 

Griffin disputed this point. He said the U.S. can still make those strides without international aid if it wishes, and that, “To the extent that we wish to go to Mars, we can go to Mars.” 

Griffin said the U.S. should in fact seek international cooperation for those missions, but that it would be “clearly false” to suggest the U.S. needs that cooperation. 

The former administrator stressed that any criticism should be directed at Obama, not Bolden, since NASA merely carries out policy. 



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