Black Former Astronaut Picked To Lead NASA

Retired U.S. astronaut Charles Bolden i i

hide captionRetired U.S. astronaut Charles Bolden delivers a speech with a model of a Mars Exploration Rover in Shanghai in 2005.

China Photos/Getty Images
Retired U.S. astronaut Charles Bolden

Retired U.S. astronaut Charles Bolden delivers a speech with a model of a Mars Exploration Rover in Shanghai in 2005.

China Photos/Getty Images

President Obama has chosen retired astronaut Gen. Charles Bolden to lead NASA, the White House said Saturday. If confirmed by the Senate, Bolden would become the first African-American to be NASA's administrator and only the second former astronaut.

The announcement came as NASA postponed its attempt to bring the space shuttle Atlantis home because of bad weather in Florida. The space agency will try again Sunday. Astronauts just completed repairs to the Hubble space telescope.

Bolden, a retired Marine Corps major general and four-time space flyer who has piloted and commanded the space shuttle, flew on the mission that put the Hubble in orbit 19 years ago.

"Charlie Bolden is well-known to everybody in the space community from the human spaceflight side of the house, where he's had extensive shuttle experience, to the science people he worked with as he was part of the crew that launched the Hubble telescope," says John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

People not only know Bolden, Logsdon says, they like him.

"He has, I think, universal respect," he says. "He's a really good guy, outgoing, friendly, even-temperament sort of individual."

Bolden would take charge of an agency that is at a crossroads. NASA is supposed to retire its aging fleet of space shuttles next year. The current plan is to build new capsules and rockets that can take astronauts back to the moon. But that might change.

"NASA is in a period of transition. It's not clear that the vision of space exploration that was announced in 2004 is going to be the future direction of the space agency," says Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert with American University.

He notes that the White House is already convening a blue-ribbon panel of experts to do an independent review of the entire human spaceflight program. That panel will make recommendations about the future of NASA later this summer.

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