Barack Obama: NASA must try to make Muslims 'feel good'

The head of the Nasa has said Barack Obama told him to make "reaching out to the Muslim world" one of the space agency's top priorities.

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 8:00PM BST 06 Jul 2010

Barack Obama wants Nasa to acknowledge Muslim achievements and contributions to science maths and engineering Photo: AFP/GETTY

Charles Bolden, a retired United States Marines Corps major-general and former astronaut, said in an interview with al-Jazeera that Nasa was not only a space exploration agency but also an "Earth improvement agency".

Mr Bolden said: "When I became the Nasa administrator, he [Mr Obama] charged me with three things.

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"One, he wanted me to help reinspire 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."

He added: "It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim [nations]."

Byron York, a conservative columnist for the Washington Examiner, characterised Mr Obama's space policy shift as moving "from moon landings to promoting self-esteem"

Earlier this year, Mr Obama announced the scrapping of the moon programme in favour of an aspiration to visit Mars, cancelling the Constellation programme for manned space flight, the successor to the Space Shuttle.

It means Nasa would not be able to travel beyond the Earth's lower orbit without international assistance and need the help of allies to make it to Mars.

The proposal angered Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, the first and last men to walk on the moon.

Along with Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 commander, they issued a statement denouncing the decision "devastating" and a plan that "destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature."