WASHINGTON, July 12 (UPI) -- The White House says U.S. space program head Charles Bolden misspoke when he said reaching out to Muslim nations is a top priority for him.
In an interview with al-Jazeera last month, Bolden said President Barack Obama intends NASA to engage with the world's best scientists and NASA must "partner with countries around the world like Russia and Japan, as well as collaboration with Israel and with many Muslim-majority countries."
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during Monday's White House press briefing "that was not his task and that's not the task of NASA."
NASA last week tried to clarify Bolden's assertion that Muslim outreach was the "perhaps foremost" plank of his mission, saying Bolden was talking about his "outreach" responsibilities and that space exploration is still NASA's main job.
But Gibbs' words sounded like a denial that Bolden was asked to focus on Muslim outreach at all Fox News Channel said.
Asked whether Bolden misspoke, Gibbs said: "I think so."
Conservatives and former NASA officials condemned Bolden's comment, saying Muslim-nation outreach is laudable but should not be a NASA priority.