Charles Bolden: The Next Boss at NASA?

Charles Bolden: The Next Boss at NASA?

The man at the controls of the space shuttle Discovery when it deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 now appears poised to steer NASA into its post-shuttle orbit. Former astronaut and retired Marine general Charles Bolden Jr. is President Obama’s likely nominee to head the space agency; the two are expected to meet at the White House May 19 for a formal interview. Years before his famous Discovery flight, Bolden traveled to space with a payload specialist named Bill Nelson — now a powerful Florida Senator and one of Bolden’s strongest backers. While Bolden, 62, is widely respected within the space and military communities, critics are raising red flags over his ties to manufacturers behind NASA’s new Constellation space program, especially in light of Obama’s pledge to distance his Administration from corporate influence. If confirmed, Bolden would be the first African-American NASA administrator.

Fast Facts:

• Born August 19, 1946 in Columbia, S.C. Now lives in Houston.

• Married a childhood friend, with whom he has two children and several grandchildren.

• Voted president of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he earned an electrical science degree in 1968. Earned a master’s from the University of Southern California in 1977.

• During the Vietnam War, he piloted more than 100 sorties in South Asia as a Naval aviator.

• Became an astronaut in 1981. Logged more than 680 hours in space on four shuttle flights from 1986 to 1994. Also served as assistant deputy administrator at NASA’s headquarters in Washington.

• Returned to active duty in the Marines in 1994, and eventually became deputy commander of U.S forces in Japan. Retired in 2003 as a major general.

• Since retiring, Bolden has sat on the boards of several corporations, including an engine manufacturer for the Orion space capsule being developed by NASA. Bolden also lobbied on behalf of the firm that builds rockets for the Orion’s launch vehicle, the Ares I.

• In 2006, he was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

• Won White House favor for the administrator job after Sen. Nelson complained that a previous candidate, retired Air Force General Scott Gration, lacked NASA experience.

• Reportedly opposed by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, whose state is home to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Goddard directs robotic space missions; reports say Mikulski fears Bolden would favor manned spaceflight. Her office has declined to comment.

• Enjoys racquetball, running and soccer.

• Would be the first African-American — and the second former astronaut — to head NASA.

Quotes by:

“When I was a kid, all astronauts were male, all astronauts were test pilots, all astronauts were white, and all astronauts were the same size. I didn’t fit into most of these categories.”

—From Contemporary Black Biography, via

“It’s easy to sit on the ground and worry about safety because if you don’t fly, you can’t have an accident. But that’s not the way to run a space program. You have to accept the risks.”

—Metro , December 21, 2006

“Our governments need to invest more in the exploration of our universe. I won’t do it but I’d like to pave the way for my granddaughters to set foot on Mars. There’s evidence Mars may sustain life today and we need to see that.”

—Metro , December 21, 2006

“I thought we would be beyond the Moon and on the way to Mars now … I have to admit to being somewhat discouraged when I look at [the] funding that is going into the program.”

—, May 8, 2006

Quotes about:

“Charlie is a patriot, a leader and a visionary, who understands the workings of NASA and the importance of America remaining a leader in science and technology through space exploration.”

—Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, in a written statement.

“Bolden … happens to be a great guy who doesn’t just have the right stuff — he knows his stuff.”

—Miles O’Brien, former CNN space correspondent

“He could get along with everyone. You never did see Charles mad. He always had that way about him to smooth things over, with his calming voice and rational thinking.”

—Ivry Moon, a former schoolmate.

Read “Space Shuttle: Same Old Damage, Same Old Worries.”

See pictures of animals in space.