A law signed a week ago gives NASA four months or less to develop a dozen different plans for the future, including a detailed report on how it would replace the retiring space shuttle.

It’s an ambitious schedule, one that NASA chief Charlie Bolden said requires the agency to “think and act boldly.” But as has been the case for much of his tenure, Bolden won’t be around as the plans get rolling. The jet-setting former astronaut left for China Friday on a weeklong trip.

Since taking charge of NASA in July 2009, the Bolden has visited 14 countries and has been missing at critical moments. Last year, he skipped one of the first shuttle flights under his watch to visit Japan, and most recently was on a trip to Europe and the Middle East when the House nearly defeated the NASA vision endorsed by the Obama administration.

“How about saving the manned space program — in America?” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas, one of several Republicans who opposed Bolden’s most recent trip. “Charlie Bolden should stay focused on America’s manned space program.”

His absence and several gaffes have led to speculation that Bolden may not be in command of NASA much longer.

“There’s always speculation about people’s tenure in Washington,” said Lori Garver, deputy NASA chief. “We have gotten to used it, and we don’t even consider it a distraction at NASA because we are so excited about our future.”

Bolden was unavailable for comment.

Bolden’s relationship with the White House has been strained since President Barack Obama introduced his plan for space exploration in February.

In the week leading up to the announcement of that plan, Bolden was in Germany and Israel on a trip that included a commemoration for the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, killed in the 2003 Columbia accident.

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