Over the weekend, Pres. Barack Obama made official what many space watchers had expected for months by nominating Charles Bolden to lead NASA.
The 62-year-old Bolden is a retired U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general who graduated from the United States Naval Academy (with a degree in electrical engineering) in 1968 and rose through the ranks from fighter pilot to test pilot to astronaut over a 35-year military career.
While assigned to NASA, Bolden served in several administrative roles before getting a chance to fly into orbit aboard the space shuttle in 1986. His first spaceflight came with mission STS-61C, piloting the Columbia in a successful deployment of a major communications satellite. Bolden followed up with stints as the pilot of STS-31 in 1990, in which the Discovery shuttle took the Hubble Space Telescope to its longstanding orbital destination, and the commander of Atlantis for STS-45 in 1992, which visited Spacelab for science studies, and of Discovery for STS-60 in 1994, which served as the historic first joint U.S./Russian shuttle mission.
Returning to the Marine Corps in 1994, Bolden served as the Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy and later the Commander of the Third Marine Air Wing at Miramar Air Station in California before retiring from active duty in 2003.
In a press release from the White House on Saturday, Pres. Obama announced that he intends to name Bolden as the next Administrator of NASA, following Michael Griffin, who retired in January, as well as to nominate NASA management expert Lori Garver as the new Deputy Administrator of NASA. Garver, 48, is a civilian who has previously served in a string of top space agency administrative posts.
Commenting on his choices for the top jobs at NASA, Pres. Obama said, "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."
The news came as little surprise to those who cover the American space program. Writing in January on the management flux facing NASA following the election of a new commander-in-chief (please see Status of NASA Administrator Grows More Tenuous by the Day), this reporter noted that Bolden was the clear frontrunner for the leadership position, with Garver and others providing competition.
Upon hearing the news, former administrator Griffin commented: "Gen. Bolden is not only a longtime friend and colleague, he is someone who has devoted most of his life to the service of his country. NASA will be in good hands."
Ironically, Bolden, a native of Columbia, S.C., almost never got the opportunity to rise to the top of American aeronautics because of his ethnicity. As a young black man in South Carolina, the representatives to Congress from his state refused to nominate him for admission to the Naval Academy during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Instead, he sought an appointment to Annapolis from a different state representative and won it.
Bolden is married to the former Alexis "Jackie" Walker of South Carolina and has two grown children.
The White House has not announced when his nomination as the twelfth NASA administrator will be sent to Congress for approval.