Monday, May 25, 2009

President Obama chooses retired astronaut Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden to lead NASA

HOUSTON — The nation's turbulent space program will be run by one of its own, a calming well-liked former space shuttle commander.

President Barack Obama on Saturday chose retired astronaut Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden to lead NASA. He also named former NASA associate administrator Lori Garver as the agency's No. 2. If confirmed, Bolden, who has flown in space four times and was an assistant deputy administrator at one point, would be the agency's first black administrator.

Bolden would also be only the second astronaut to run NASA in its 50-year history. Vice Adm. Richard Truly was the first. In 2002, then-President George W. Bush unsuccessfully tried to appoint Bolden as the space agency's deputy administrator. The Pentagon said it needed to keep Bolden, who was a Marine major general at the time and a pilot who flew more than 100 sorties in Vietnam.

"Charlie knows NASA and the people know Charlie; there's a level of comfort," especially given the uncertainty the space agency faces, said retired astronaut Steve Hawley, who flew twice in space with Bolden.

Bolden likely will bring "more balance" to NASA, increasing spending on aeronautics and environment missions, working more with other nations in space, and emphasizing education, which the president often talks about when it comes to space, said former Johnson Space Center Director George Abbey, a longtime friend.

"He's a real leader," Abbey said Saturday. "NASA has been looking for a leader like this that they could have confidence in."

Bolden's appointment came during the tail end of the space shuttle Atlantis' mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope one final time. He was the pilot on the flight that sent Hubble into orbit in 1990.

Bolden, 62, would inherit a NASA that doesn't look much like the still-somewhat-fresh-from-the-moon agency he joined as an astronaut in 1980. NASA now "is faced with a lot of uncertainty," Abbey said.

Bush set in motion a plan to retire the space shuttle fleet at the end of next year and return astronauts to the moon and then head out to Mars in a series of rockets and capsules that borrows heavily from the 1960s Apollo program. The shuttle's replacement won't be ready until at least 2015, so for five years the only way Americans will be able to get in space is by hitching a ride on a Russian space capsule. And some of NASA's biggest science programs are over budget.

Earlier this month, the White House ordered a complete outside examination of the manned space program. The Obama administration hasn't been explicit about its space policy, with White House science adviser John Holdren saying the policy would come after a NASA chief was named.

"These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America's space program," Obama said of Bolden and Garver in a statement.

Bolden, a native of Columbia, S.C., and his wife donated $750 to the Obama campaign in 2008.

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Bolden spent about a decade, his impending appointment was quietly cheered on all week long.

The diminutive salt-and-pepper haired Bolden, who lives only a few miles from the space center, on Saturday morning said he couldn't talk until after Senate confirmation. He was busy answering congratulatory e-mails from home. He has his own consulting firm in Houston and sits on corporate boards.

ORGANIZATIONS: Member of the Montford Point Marine Association, the United States Naval Institute, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Lifetime member of the Naval Academy Alumni Association, the University of Southern California General Alumni Association.

SPECIAL HONORS: Recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Strike/Flight Medal (8th award), Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of South Carolina (1984), Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Winthrop College (1986), the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (1992), NASA Exceptional Service Medals (1988, 1989, 1991), the University of Southern California Alumni Award of Merit (1989), and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Johnson C. Smith University (1990).

EXPERIENCE: Bolden accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1968. He underwent flight training at Pensacola, Florida, Meridian, Mississippi, and Kingsville, Texas, before being designated a naval aviator in May 1970. He flew more than 100 sorties into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in the A-6A Intruder while assigned to VMA(AW)-533 at Nam Phong, Thailand, June 1972 to June 1973. Upon returning to the United States, Bolden began a two-year tour as a Marine Corps selection officer and recruiting officer in Los Angeles, California, followed by three years in various assignments at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California. In June 1979, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, and was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center's Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates. While there, he served as an ordnance test pilot and flew numerous test projects in the A-6E, EA-6B, and A-7C/E airplanes.

He has logged more than 6,000 hours flying time.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in May 1980, Bolden became an astronaut in August 1981. His technical assignments included: Astronaut Office Safety Officer; Technical Assistant to the Director of Flight Crew Operations; Special Assistant to the Director of the Johnson Space Center; Astronaut Office Liaison to the Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Directorates of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center; Chief of the Safety Division at JSC; Lead Astronaut for Vehicle Test and Checkout at the Kennedy Space Center; and Assistant Deputy Administrator, NASA Headquarters. A veteran of four space flights, he has logged over 680 hours in space. Bolden served as pilot on STS-61C (January 12-18, 1986) and STS-31 (April 24-29, 1990), and was the mission commander on STS-45 (March 24-April 2, 1992), and STS-60 (Feb. 3-11, 1994).

Bolden left NASA and returned to active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps as the Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, effective June 27, 1994.

Brig. General Bolden is the Assistant Wing Commander, HQ 3rd MAW Miramar, San Diego, California.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-61C Space Shuttle Columbia. During the six-day flight crew members deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. STS-61C launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on January 12. The mission was accomplished in 96 orbits of Earth, ending with a successful night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 18, 1986.

STS-31 Space Shuttle Discovery. Launched on April 24, 1990, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the five-day mission, crew members deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and conducted a variety of middeck experiments. They also used a variety of cameras, including both the IMAX in cabin and cargo bay cameras, for Earth observations from their record-setting altitude over 400 miles. Following 75 orbits of Earth in 121 hours, STS-31 Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on April 29, 1990.

On STS-45 Bolden commanded a crew of seven aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. Launched on March 24 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, STS-45 was the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. During the nine-day mission, the crew operated the twelve experiments that constituted the ATLAS-1 (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) cargo. ATLAS-1 obtained a vast array of detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties, which contribute significantly to improving our understanding of our climate and atmosphere. In addition, this was the first time an artificial beam of electrons was used to stimulate a man-made auroral discharge. Following 143 orbits of Earth, STS-45 Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on April 2, 1992.

On STS-60 he commanded a crew of six aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. This was the historic first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle mission involving the participation of a Russian Cosmonaut as a mission specialist crew member. The flight launched on February 3, 1994, from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and carried the Space Habitation Module-2 (Spacehab-2), and the Wake Shield Facility-01 (WSF-1). Additionally, the crew conducted a series of joint U.S./Russian science activities. The mission achieved 130 orbits of the Earth, ending with a landing on February 11, 1994, at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

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