Charles Bolden, a retired United States Marines Corps major-general and former astronaut, said in an interview with al-Jazeera that Nasa was not only a space exploration agency but also an "Earth improvement agency".
Mr Bolden said: "When I became the Nasa administrator, he [Mr Obama] charged me with three things.
"One, he wanted me to help reinspire 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."
He added: "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]."
Byron York, a conservative columnist for the Washington Examiner, characterised Mr Obama's space policy shift as moving "from moon landings to promoting self-esteem" Read more