Obama Picks a Former Astronaut to Be the First Black NASA Chief

By Eliza Strickland | May 26, 2009 8:43 am

BoldenThe man tasked with steering NASA through difficult transitions and pointing the space agency boldly towards the stars will be a former astronaut who has piloted the space shuttle. On Saturday, President Barack Obama announced his long-awaited nomination for NASA administrator: Charles F. Bolden Jr. If confirmed by the Senate, the former astronaut and retired Marine Corps general will be the first African-American to head the space agency.

The pick has been celebrated by NASA insiders, and is viewed as a signal that, after some signs of ambivalence, President Obama is now embracing the expensive manned spaceflight program. “Clearly Charlie Bolden would not have taken the job if he were being asked to shut down human spaceflight,” said John Logsdon, a space policy expert in Washington….  He added that a recent announcement of the administration’s plans to review the Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft, which are to replace the space shuttle by 2015, is not a shot across the bow of NASA’s human spaceflight program. He said it would be a review of the hardware, not the destination or goals [Los Angeles Times].

However, it is not clear whether the new leadership will adopt all of the goals for human exploration of the solar system that were laid out by the Bush administration: namely, returning to the moon by 2020 and then working towards landing humans on Mars.

Bolden started his career as a naval aviator, and flew more than 100 missions during the Vietnam War. He joined NASA as an astronaut in 1980 and flew on four shuttle missions, logging 680 hours in Earth orbit. Bolden first piloted the shuttle Columbia 23 years ago, and followed with three more space shuttle flights, including the flight that deployed the famed Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and the first shuttle mission with a Russian crew member, in 1994. Bolden was shuttle commander for two flights [NBC News]. Florida Senator Bill Nelson flew on a shuttle mission with Bolden in 1986 when Nelson was a U.S. representative. Nelson, now the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on space that will oversee Bolden’s nomination and one of the people pushing Bolden’s nomination to the White House, commented: “I trusted Charlie with my life – and would do so again” [AP].

Gen. Bolden could come under questioning during nomination hearings over his previous financial and business ties to two big NASA contractors [working on the Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule]: Alliant Techsystems Inc. and GenCorp Inc…. New ethics rules would require Gen. Bolden to recuse himself from making decisions concerning specific contracts for the two companies [The Wall Street Journal].

Related Content:
80beats: Obama Orders a Review of NASA’s Human Space Flight Program
80beats: Will the Next NASA Chief Be a Fighter Pilot With Little Space Experience?
80beats: On NASA’s 50th Anniversary, Many Fans Fret for Its Future

Image: NASA

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Yay I get to be the first to say it!

    “Lando! Lando Calrissian!”

    Okay, got it out of my system.

    And who better to sh!tcan the manned spaceflight system than an astronaut, or at least streamline it from the perspective of someone whose ridden a high-tech tin-can powered by explosions into the vacuum.

    Sounds like this guy actually has a resumé, too – unlike Mr. Bush’s picks for offices, where your resumé merely needed “I like Mr. Bush. Does he like me too? Y/n”

  • Dennis

    At least he is a Marine.
    He may be able to get NASA focused on what they should have been doing for the last thirty years; getting things and us into space cheaply and safely.
    Of course standing up to the entrenched interest at NASA will be harder than telling the Darth Vader to go screw…..

  • http://twitter.com/joselembardo Weiss – Devin

    Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” has a catchy title. It has an idea of bravery mixed confidently. You’ll find nothing Pollyanna regarding it. I won’t support every part he says, but he’s our president, and for me, he creates confidence. Which could do more for a region than any number of backroom deals. Hope gives us energy, and energy sustains us through trying times. Boy, we’ve had them. I’m from West Texas, and I did not vote for Bush. When McCain ran against Obama, I was a citizen of Arizona, but I gave audacious hope a chance. The fight for progress and laying the foundations of prosperity will not be over. I’ve come across the quips of those who don’t believe Obama is capable of it. But step back a second. Would anyone have all of us fail only to tarnish the star of an incumbent for whom they didn’t vote? Attempting to keep our priorities straight, let’s work together with our president and build our future.


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