NEW YORK — Reaching out to the Muslim world is not part of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s job, the White House said July 12.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Bolden probably misspoke in recent remarks in which the NASA chief and former astronaut said one of his foremost tasks in leading NASA is to engage with Muslim nations about science.

“That was not his task, and that’s not the task of NASA,” Gibbs said during the daily White House press briefing.

NASA confirmed that Bolden misspoke.

“NASA’s core mission remains one of space exploration, science and aeronautics,” NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said. “Administrator Bolden regrets that a statement he made during a recent interview mischaracterized that core mission. The success of NASA’s efforts is increasingly enhanced by mutual cooperation with dozens of other countries around the world that are also committed to these efforts.”

Bolden made the comments in an interview while visiting Egypt two weeks ago. It aired June 30 on the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera.

Bolden said President Barack Obama had charged him with three things upon becoming NASA administrator.

“One, 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,” Bolden said.

The comments have ignited a flurry of controversy — particularly over the omission of space exploration as one of the three goals.