NASA’s Muslim outreach: Al Jazeera told first

Posted on July 9, 2010

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So far, this story has gone unreported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the nightly newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC.)  

Lawmakers across Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans, were surprised to learn recently that the Obama administration has made reaching out to Muslim nations a top priority for the space agency NASA. They will probably be more surprised to learn that administration officials told the Middle East news organization Al Jazeera about it before they told Congress.

Rep. Pete Olson, the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, got a call from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on June 28, the day the White House released its new long-term plan for the space program. “He ran down some of the things from the president’s new space policy, and mentioned outreach to Muslims,” Olson recalls. “That stunned me. I didn’t believe it.”

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat who chairs the subcommittee (and is also married to astronaut Mark Kelly), got a briefing from Bolden the same day, according to a spokesman.

As it happens, Bolden’s calls to Giffords and Olson came several days after Bolden discussed the Muslim initiative with Al Jazeera. According to a NASA spokesman, Bolden sat down with Al Jazeera’s Imran Garda on June 17, during a stop in Doha, Qatar. Bolden’s Mideast trip, which was timed to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s June 2009 Muslim outreach speech, was devoted to pursuing “a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.”

During the interview, Bolden told Al Jazeera that the “foremost” mission he had been given by Obama was “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.”

The Al Jazeera interview did not air until June 30, after the Obama space plan was released and Bolden briefed members of Congress. But there’s no question Al Jazeera got the word first.

Although few, if any, lawmakers knew it, Bolden had previewed the idea even earlier. In a February 2010 blog item, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bolden told a group of engineering students Obama had asked him “to find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries.”

Read more  http://www.washingtonexaminer.com         Article by Byron York

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