Retired astronaut and Columbia native Charles Bolden has been confirmed by the full Senate to become the new Chief Administrator of NASA. A Marine Corps General, Bolden was tapped for the position earlier this summer by President Barack Obama. Bolden has flown in space four times and served earlier as an assistant deputy administrator for the agency. Bolden will be the first African-American to head NASA. The confirmation allows Bolden to be sworn in by July 20, 2009, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
During Senate confirmation hearings last week, Bolden said that NASA can’t just depend on the federal government for the funds the agency needs to carry out its large number of research and development programs. Bolden says NASA must inspire and open the door for commercial entrepreneural entities to become partners with NASA and invest in NASA.
“No, you can’t make enought money for NASA to do the things that I think you want to do, but together we can inspire young people to want to put their money that they do have and are looking for places to invest into science and technology. Together I think we will go back to the Moon and eventually we will go on to Mars and other places even deeper in our solar system.”
Bolden was the pilot of the shuttle flight that launched the Hubble Space Telescope into Earth orbit in 1990. He also flew over 100 combat missions in Vietnam.
Bolden says while NASA has a group a very talented engineers and scientists, he is concerned that the talent is aging. A strong proponent of education, Bolden says America has to cultivate young talent that can maintain and enhance NASA research and development projects now and into the future.
“If I go to a classroom today its different than when I went as an astronaut in 1980. I could ask, ‘How many of you want to be an astronaut?’ Every hand went up in the class. When I go to a school today and ask that question I may see three hands. All of them now want to go into business, so we do have a challenge in trying to get young men and women interested in coming back into the science and engineering fields again.”
Bolden told senators that the country can either invest in building upon our hard earned world technological leadership or we can abandon this commitment, ceding it to others.
Bolden says in the field of aeronautics including space travel, as Chief of NASA, he must preach safety first and foremost. “I would say safety and efficiency in the operations that we do, that has to be foremost. I think it’s important for me to say that because if I as the leader don’t put that number one then no one else will believe it when I say it.”