NASA Chief Revealed Muslim Outreach Plan to Al Jazeera Before Congress

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden revealed his plans to improve relations between America's space exploration agency and the Muslim world to Al Jazeera before Congress, the Washington Examiner reported.

Bolden called a couple of lawmakers with the news on June 28, after his interview with the Middle East news organization but before it aired, the newspaper reported.

"He ran down some of the things from the president's new space policy, and mentioned outreach to Muslims," Rep. Pete Olson, the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics recalled to the newspaper. "That stunned me. I didn't believe it."

Bolden's interview with Al Jazeera ignited a firestorm of controversy that has gone largely unreported by major news outlets. Michael Griffin, the NASA administrator during the latter half of the Bush administration told that he believes the Muslim outreach plan is "deeply flawed."

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

Bolden sat down with Al Jazeera's Imran Garda on June 17 during a Middle East trip to mark the one-year anniversary since Obama delivered an address to Muslim nations in Cairo, a NASA spokesman told the newspaper.

The interview aired June 30 after the Obama space plan was unveiled and members of Congress were briefed.

Bolden gave Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, chairwoman of the subcommittee, on the same day he called Olson.

Bolden floated the idea back in February, telling a group of engineering students that President Obama had asked him to "find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries," according to a blog post for the Orlando Sentinel.

As he did in the interview with Al Jazeera last month, Bolden was quoted then saying Obama told him to "find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries."

The White House has stood by Bolden, telling 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," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.