President Obama's meeting with the man who could be the next NASA administrator, former astronaut Charles F. Bolden Jr., has been postponed until at least Tuesday due to today's White House session with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
When Gibbs was asked whether reporters would hear anything about a new NASA chief, as suggested in an NBC News report last week, he replied: "You won't hear it today ... Because of the Netanyahu meeting's going longer, the visit with Mr. Bolden will be tomorrow morning."
Later during the briefing, reporters asked about Bolden once again.
"I don't want to get ahead of the president's meeting with him," Gibbs said, "but I know he's anxious to have strong leadership at NASA. I think we've all watched and read about the mission that's going on right now and the amazing efforts that are being undertaken with consecutive multi-hour spacewalks to repair the Hubble telescope. So we may have something after that meeting, but not until then."
In addition to being a four-time spaceflier, Bolden is a retired Marine major general and a former aerospace executive. If he is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first African-American selected to lead the space agency.
Bolden has been widely praised by space insiders, and he has a particularly strong advocate in Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who flew on the space shuttle in 1986 under Bolden's command. But if there's any knock against him, it would be his past connections to companies such as ATK and GenCorp, which stand to benefit from NASA's plan to retire the space shuttles and build a new breed of spaceships to return to the moon.
That program is due to undergo a far-reaching outside review this summer, and some observers suggest Bolden may have to limit his involvement in the agency's core issue to comply with the Obama administration's ethics rules.
Update for 2 p.m. ET May 19: Bolden had his meeting with Obama on Tuesday morning. No announcement on the selection was made immediately, although Gibbs said the president "hopes that he's the right person to lead NASA in the coming years and through its evolving role."