Obama nominates Bolden to head NASA

By Phil Plait | May 23, 2009 8:13 am

After all the rumors, then a denial of the rumors, it looks like at least some of the rumors were true: President Obama has picked ex-astronaut Charles Bolden to head NASA.

I’ve already written about this, so there isn’t much more to say, except that this isn’t a done deal yet; the Senate has to approve of the choice. Given Bolden’s record, I don’t see anything obvious in his way unless 1) the Senate wants to play politics and/or b) Bolden hasn’t paid his taxes.

I hope this works out, because he seems like the right guy for the job. I’ll post more news as I hear it.


Comments (36)

  1. Tim

    Eh, paying taxes means nothing in this administration…

    Here’s hoping there is actually some direction in Bolden’s mind…and some money to pay for that direction


    How are Herschel and Planck doing so far? Any ideas?


    And, anything special from Kepler?

  4. And, anything special from Kepler?
    He was responsible for the laws of planetary motion. That’s pretty good.

  5. matteus

    @shane I am seriously thinking of naming my first son Johannes Kepler , except for the whole schoolyard beating issue.

  6. Heh, I saw what you did there, heh!
    1), b), heh!

  7. matteus,
    Nah, Johannes Kepler isn’t bad. Now if you named your son Tycho Brahe he might cop a beating or two. Practice naming your pets first. Our cat is Copernicus. I’m not sure my better half will allow any child we have be called Copernicus though.

  8. [whiny mode] Phil, can the powers that be put the “recent comments” back please? Someone has said something wrong somewhere and I need to correct them but I can’t find them.[/whiny mode]


    @ Shane

    Ah, dummy, I was talking about the telescope!

  10. Shane, that software plugin for recent comments was slamming the servers, so it’s been taken down.

  11. Phil, thanks for answering. Oh well we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.

  12. Quasar,
    Herschel and Planck just wanted to be happy together, but I don’t think society was quite ready to accept that kind of relationship, yet. They split up, and are now seeking a divorce

  13. Sandra (MedTek)

    Lori Garver as associate administrator? Hmmm don’t know about that.

    Charlie however, I’m all for. I have a lot of respect for him and believe he’s the best choice (and always was).

  14. Travis Bear

    (#8) Shane, I have two sons. Older named Tycho, younger named Ptolemy. No schoolyard issues so far!

  15. unless the Senate wants to play politics

    When you put it like that, he hasn’t a chance.

  16. Wait – if they let information like this slip early won’t it just -um Bolden the enemy?

  17. Could an astronaut make a case that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes on income earned while in space? They’re not within the United States.

  18. QUASAR

    @ Michael L

    Don’t be a scumbrain, seriously!

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    “To Bolden go where no black man has gone before.”

    Sorry, someone had to say it.

    He was responsible for the laws of planetary motion. That’s pretty good.

    When you have Planck, which solved the mystery of the (missing) “UV catastrophe” by suggesting quantization. That’s pretty good.

    But he could never (IIRC) reconcile himself with taking quanta seriously. Of course, the whole business of QM was a bit iffy at the time. Analogous to how string theory may or may not be more than a convenient physics method. It also prevents (a lot of) singularities, but these splendid features doesn’t convince doubters, sorry to say.

    How Herschel was doing I have no idea at all, however. At a guess he was an astronomer which would explain why his name doesn’t elicit any specifics.

    Btw, I would have looked for (or proposed BA) history of astronomy as a blog subject. But I can’t seem to find any tag library, or even archive. Is it my FF/AdBlock combo which excludes for example a tag cloud, or has Discover dropped these amenities as well?

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Don’t be a scumbrain, seriously!

    Heh heh, the troll got trolled.

  21. Josh

    if a guy nominated for Secretary of the Treasury can not pay taxes and still get the job then I don’t see how anybody else can be rejected for any other job for that reason

  22. @Travis Bear
    That is awesome. I’m partial to Hypatia for a girls name too.

  23. Jason Dick


    As for Herschel and Planck, well, I can’t talk about Herschel, but with Planck I have some knowledge. Both Planck and Herschel are currently in transit, and won’t be fully turning on for some time yet. Presumably data will be available from Herschel within a couple of months. But for Planck it will take longer: we’ll be getting our first data within a couple of months, but it will take a full six months to get the whole sky, though we’re probably going to wait for a full year’s worth of data before compiling it for release, and even then we’re going to be holding onto it for another year after that to make sure we’ve dotted all our i’s and crossed all our t’s.

    In the mean time, people involved with Planck really can’t talk about it, so don’t expect to hear bupkis about that satellite for a couple of years yet. This site is perhaps the best source of available information on Planck in the mean time:


  24. Here’s a question: Who, in your opinion, was the best administrator of NASA?

  25. Ray


    As a government employee, Astronauts are responsible for paying taxes regardless of their locations. About the only break you can get is an extension if you’re in space on 15 April.

  26. jorge c.

    i have just read this post in sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/

    “One of the biggest science and technology positions still open in the Obama Administration was filled today when the President announced General Charles Bolden, Jr. (USMC, retired) would be the nominee for NASA Adminstrator (H/T Wall Street Journal and Dynamics of Cats). General Bolden is a former astronaut, and served in NASA as assistant deputy administrator in the early part of the 1990s. Lori Garver, a former NASA official during the Clinton Administration, has been nominated as Deputy Administrator.

    “Bolden’s name has been bandied about since the beginning of the year, suggesting some reservations in the White House or other space constituencies. Gen. Bolden’s employment by NASA contractors following his astronaut service may have given some quarters pause, particularly when the agency wil be forced to navigate new territory when the Space Shuttle is retired, something supposed to happen next year. As the Obama Administration has instituted an agency review of human spaceflight operations, there will likely be some pressure to change old institutional habits, including relationships with contractors. Ms. Garver’s experience with contractors also suggests potential resistance to change. Since the investments in resources required for what NASA does are large, making big changes requires extra effort. These may not be the right people for making big changes.”

    what do you think??

  27. Flying sardines

    20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM : (May 23rd, 2009 at 4:10 pm)

    How Herschel was doing I have no idea at all, however. At a guess he was an astronomer which would explain why his name doesn’t elicit any specifics.

    Wilhelm later ‘William’ Herschel was the man who discovered “George’s Star” better (or arguably worse! 😉 ) known today as Uranus. (The name should in fact actually be spelt ‘Ouranos’ the Greek form of the Greek name rather than its romanised version.) Herschel had an interesting life being in the Hannoverian military, deserting, composing and /or playing music then taking up astronomy in England. He also discovered infra-red energy in studying spectroscopy.

    His sister Caroline and son John were also significant astronomers in their own rights.

    Caroline Herschel discovered many comets as well as helping her brother in his telescope making and astronomical observations. She was one of the first well-renowned and famous female astronomers.

    John Herschel conducted a major southern hemisphere star survey from the Cape of Good Hope, incl. charting the eruption of Eta Carinae in the 1830’s-40’s. He was also caught up in the famous “Moon hoax” when a newspaper fooled many readers by falsely claiming Herschel had discovered life, incl. trees, animals and all sorts else on the Moon!

    See :


    (From the Herschel dismabiguation Wikipage.)

    Notable people or families with the surname Herschel include:

    Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), astronomer and composer, discoverer of Uranus

    Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848), astronomer and singer, sister of Sir William Herschel

    John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871), mathematician and astronomer, son of Sir William Herschel

    Alexander Stewart Herschel (1836-1907), astronomer, grandson of Sir William Herschel


    Crikey, I’m surprised I have to mention this – I thought the Herschel clan was much better known. Or is someone here joking? 😉

  28. Flying sardines

    @ 26. Ray : (May 24th, 2009 at 6:20 am)

    Thomas, As a government employee, Astronauts are responsible for paying taxes regardless of their locations. About the only break you can get is an extension if you’re in space on 15 April.

    From memory, I think one of the ‘Apollo 13’ astronauts (Lovell, Swigert, Haise) was in this situation during their successful failure / NASA’s greatest hour” mission and had their tax form deadline extended – although that may have just been in the eponymous movie! 😉

  29. Charles

    “Here’s a question: Who, in your opinion, was the best administrator of NASA?”

    Without question, James E. Webb.

  30. Gary Ansorge

    AH, taxes. In the ’80s, the tax law for expats(people working outside the USA) was changed to allow a $75,000 deduction if one remained outside the country for 11 consecutive months, so I guess if we ever have an astronaut stay in orbit for that long, they should get that deduction,,,unless some tax lawyer for the IRS claims that every orbit over the continental USA results in re-entry into US airspace,,,

    Tax LAw. Can’t live with it. Can’t kill the auditor.

    GAry 7

  31. Gary Ansorge

    Also, we could para phrase Cpt Kirk, by saying:

    “,,,to BOLDEN go where none have gone, before,,,”

    Sorry. I just couldn’t resist,,,

    GAry 7

  32. Flying sardines

    “Here’s a question: Who, in your opinion, was the best administrator of NASA?”

    I’d have to go with Webb too I guess.

    I only recently found out that Werner Von Braun was NOT a NASA administrator … Otherwise he’d have been my pick. I still say he’s the best person NASA ‘s ever had (sort of) in charge.

    BTW. Did Obama give any idea about his vision for NASA and space exploration as well or just announce Bolden was the new top honcho?


    PS. I too miss the ‘recent comments’ box – any chance of getting that back?

  33. I’ve been away, and I’m now catching up on blog reading. So I’m breezing through headlines pretty quickly, stopping at the ones that catch my eye. The one before this was to do with Oprah.

    And so I first read this headline as “Oprah nominates Bolden to head NASA”.

    That most certainly caught my eye, I’ll tell you.

  34. Good to hear that Obama hasn’t completely forgotten about NASA. Maybe if the economy rebounds enough, we can invest more to the Space program.


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