WH defends Bolden remarks on NASA

After NASA Administrator Charles Bolden got blasted for revealing the three objectives tasked for him by Barack Obama, the White House has decided to fight back — by basically claiming that Bolden misspoke.  Jake Tapper reports from the White House that the Obama administration now claims that the mission will still be to “push the boundaries of exploration”:

NASA assistant administrator for public affairs Bob Jacobs told ABC News that “Administrator Bolden understands that NASA’s core mission is exploration, both in space and in scientific endeavors here at home.  Inherent to the success of that mission is cooperation and collaboration with other nations which are equally committed to this effort, including expanding the range of countries with which NASA engages and partners.”

In response to criticism, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement that “The President has always said that he 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.”

Let’s recall that this is the same administration that has canceled the Moon base as a project, as well as the craft that was supposed to replace the aging Space Shuttles.  They have not officially announced a new replacement, and in terms of “push[ing] boundaries of exploration,” have only hinted that a mission to Mars will be the next goal for manned space flight.  As yet, however, we’re not even anticipating new technology to get us back and forth from the International Space Station, but will have to rely on the Russians in the near term instead.

The problem seems less to be the people who reacted to Bolden than what Bolden himself said:

When I became the NASA Administrator — before I became the NASA Administrator — [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire 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.

As I wrote yesterday, none of these three objectives deal directly with space at all.  Not one of them.  Most of the commentary focused on the outreach to Muslim nations (as I predicted), but the actual problem is that Barack Obama gave these self-esteem exercises as the primary objectives he has in mind for NASA to his appointee to run NASA.  The warm and fuzzy feelings should come as a side benefit from actual, achievable, challenging goals of space exploration, not the other way around — or just the warm-and-fuzzies as an end to themselves.

That’s exactly what Bolden said.  If the White House has a problem with that, they should be discussing it with Bolden instead of griping that people paid attention to it.  And if all they can do about setting goals that really do “push the boundaries of exploration” is to claim that they have that in mind while giving much more clear objectives that have to do with self-esteem exercises — which seems to be the situation — then we should demand some changes at NASA and in the administration.  If a NASA administrator and a White House can talk at length about everything but space in our space program, then NASA has run off the rails.