"When I became the NASA administrator -- or before I became the NASA administrator -- he 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 ... and math and engineering," Bolden said in the interview.
The NASA administrator was in the Middle East last month marking the one-year anniversary since Obama delivered an address to Muslim nations in Cairo. Bolden spoke in June at the American University in Cairo -- in his interview with Al Jazeera, he described space travel as an international collaboration of which Muslim nations must be a part.
"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)," he said. He held up the International as a model, praising the contributions there from the Russians and the Chinese.
However, Bolden denied the suggestion that he was on a diplomatic mission -- in a distinctly non-diplomatic role.
"Not at all. It's not a diplomatic anything," he said.
He said the United States is not going to travel beyond low-Earth orbit on its own and that no country is going to make it to Mars without international help.The last statement not withstanding, this again confirms my impression that Obama's science initiative towards the Muslim world is broad and substantive (see an earlier post: Obama's science initiative in Indonesia). On the one hand, a collaboration with NASA seems a bit out of place when none of the Muslim countries can even launch decent sized payloads in low-Earth orbit. On the other hand, the prestige and symbolism attached to NASA is such that any reasonable collaboration will probably get full appreciative attention. But the nature of collaboration has to be more substantive than shooting a Saudi prince into a low-Earth orbit (been there, done that). I wish the interviewer had pushed Bolden for at least some more details. As far as diplomacy is concerned, I think this is a brilliant idea. Now I know why the meeting of Pakistani-American doctors was in a Mars-like habitat...
Here is the full interview (about 20 mins.):
See related posts:
Obama's science initiative in Indonesia
A bill to support scientific research in the Muslim world
Obama's science envoys for the Muslim world