The 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 The Wall Street Journal].Inc…. New ethics rules would require Gen. Bolden to recuse himself from making decisions concerning specific contracts for the two companies [
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