Just hours after the July 15 liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour to a 16-day mission to the International Space Station, the U.S. Senate confirmed retired astronaut Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden to be the next administrator of NASA. Bolden will be sworn into office July 20, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
Former NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver was also confirmed as NASA's deputy administrator.
Bolden, who flew four shuttle missions between 1986 and 1994, is inheriting an agency roiled by budget issues and a fierce debate over the direction of U.S. manned space flight. In May, President Obama ordered an outside review of NASA's program to return to the moon. The 90-day inquiry will re-exam NASA's replacement plans for the space shuttle fleet, currently scheduled for retirement late next year, and whether it might be better to bypass the moon for missions further out into the solar system.
A blue-ribbon panel of experts is conducting the review, led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine.
"Today, we have to choose. Either we can invest in building on our hard-earned world technological leadership or we can abandon this commitment, ceding it to other nations who are working diligently to push the frontiers of space," Bolden said. ""If we choose to lead, we must build on our investment in the International Space Station [and] accelerate development of our next-generation launch systems to enable expansion of human exploration."
During his confirmation hearing, Bolden told lawmakers NASA also needs to continue cutting-edge aeronautics research, support the innovation of American entrepreneurs and "inspire a rising generation of boys and girls to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math."
Bolden's confirmation marks the beginning of his second career turn at NASA. His 34-year career with the Marine Corps included 14 years as a member of NASA's Astronaut Office. After joining the office in 1980, his flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission, which featured a cosmonaut as a member of his crew.
Bolden also drew technical assignments as the Astronaut Office safety officer; technical assistant to the director of Flight Crew Operations; special assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center; chief of the Safety Division at Johnson (overseeing safety efforts for the return to flight after the 1986 Challenger accident); lead astronaut for vehicle test and checkout at the Kennedy Space Center; and assistant deputy administrator at NASA headquarters. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.
Immediately prior to Bolden's nomination for the NASA administrator's job, he was employed as the CEO of JACKandPANTHER, a small business enterprise providing leadership, military and aerospace consulting, and motivational speaking.