Saturday, May 23, 2009

Former Astronaut Bolden to be NASA Administrator

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - President Obama has named former astronaut Charles F. Bolden to head NASA on Saturday, sources have told NBC News.

Bolden is an African-American born in 1946 in segregated South Carolina, where the law at the time forced him to study in a blacks-only school equipped with hand-me-downs and used books.

Despite the hard road of segregation, he logged top grades and pounded on the gates of the U.S. Naval Academy until a Northern congressman helped him get in. Bolden was elected president of his class, and graduated with the gold bars of a Marine second lieutenant.

Bolden earned his Naval Aviator wings and became one of America's outstanding combat pilots, flying more than 100 missions in the skies of North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Upon returning home, he became a leading Marine Corps test pilot and a NASA astronaut — 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, the one in 1994 as well as a science mission in 1992.

The spaceflight veteran retired from the military as a Marine Corps major general in 2003. Three years later, he explained during a Senate hearing why only astronauts could do certain tasks in space, and why only robots — like the rovers currently operating on Mars — should be used to explore certain types of hostile terrains. He made it clear that all sciences should get a fair shake.

Astronaut Kathy Sullivan, the first woman to make a spacewalk for NASA, flew in space twice with Bolden. "He's not a heavy-handed commander," she said. "He has the strength of character needed to shape up NASA."

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