Before becoming the head of NASA, Bolden was an astronaut who flew into space four times. He commanded two space shuttle missions. Bolden has worked both for the government and for private companies. He is a retired United States Marine Corps Major General. He is also the first African-American to be appointed NASA administrator.
On May 23, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Bolden as NASA Administrator and Lori Garver as Deputy NASA Administrator. Bolden was confirmed by the Senate on July 15, 2009. He is the first African American to head the agency on a permanent basis.
Bolden is also the virtual host of the Shuttle Launch Experience attraction at Kennedy Space Center and serves on the board of directors for the Military Child Education Coalition.
NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
|Awards||Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bolden graduated from C. A. Johnson High School in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1964. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Science from the United States Naval Academy in 1968, where he was a contemporary of future Marine officers Oliver North, Jim Webb and Michael Hagee and future Chief of Naval Operations Michael Mullen, and a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California in 1977. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Bolden was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps following graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1968. He was president of his class. He underwent flight training at Pensacola, Florida, Meridian, Mississippi, and Kingsville, Texas, before being designated a Naval Aviator in May 1970.
He flew more than 100 sorties into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the A-6A Intruder while assigned to VMA(AW)-533 at Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong,Thailand, from June 1972 to June 1973.
Upon returning to the United States, Bolden began a two-year tour as a Marine Corps selection officer and recruiting officer in Los Angeles, California, followed by three years in various assignments at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California.
In June 1979, he graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland and was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center‘s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates. While there, he served as an ordnance test pilot and flew numerous test projects in the A-6E, EA-6B, and A-7C/E airplanes. He logged more than 6,000 hours flying time.
Bolden was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1980. He was a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps until 1994 when he returned to assignments in the Marine Corps, first as the Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, effective June 27, 1994. In July 1997, he was assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of I Marine Expeditionary Force. From February to June 1998, he served as Commanding General, I MEF (Forward) in support of Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait. In July 1998, he was promoted to his final rank of major general and assumed his duties as the Deputy Commander, United States Forces Japan. He then served as the Commanding General, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, from August 9, 2000 until August 2002. He retired from the military in August 2004.
Selected by NASA in May 1980, Bolden became an astronaut in August 1981. His technical assignments included: Astronaut Office Safety Officer; Technical Assistant to the Director of Flight Crew Operations; Special Assistant to the Director of the Johnson Space Center; Astronaut Office Liaison to the Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Directorates of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center; Chief of the Safety Division at JSC; Lead Astronaut for Vehicle Test and Checkout at the Kennedy Space Center; and Assistant Deputy Administrator, NASA Headquarters.
A veteran of four space flights, he has logged over 680 hours in space. Bolden served as pilot on STS-61-C (January 12–18, 1986) and STS-31 (April 24–29, 1990), and was the mission commander on STS-45 (March 24, 1992 – April 2, 1992), and STS-60 (February 3–11, 1994).
Bolden was the first person to ride the Launch Complex 39 slidewire baskets which enable rapid escape from a Space Shuttle on the launch pad. The need for a human test was determined following a launch abort onSTS-41-D where controllers were afraid to order the crew to use the untested escape system.
A few years before his appointment by President Barack Obama to be administrator of NASA, Bolden auditioned, along with professional actors, for the role of virtual host for NASA’s “Shuttle Launch Experience” educational attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida.
Bolden has received:
- an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of South Carolina (1984)
- an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Winthrop College (1986)
- University of Southern California‘s Alumni Award of Merit (1989)
- an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Johnson C. Smith University (1990)
- an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2008)
- an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Monmouth University (2011)
- an Honorary Doctor of Public Service from the University of Maryland University College (2012)
- an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from the University of Bristol (2014)
- the National Space Trophy  (2014)
- an Honorary Doctor of Science from Rochester Institute of Technology (2015)
Administrator of NASA
In 2009, President Obama appointed Bolden to be administrator of NASA.
In a NASA video published April 28, 2010, titled “NASA’s New Era of Innovation and Discovery … We’re gonna turn science fiction into science fact”, Bolden said.
That same day, at a question and answer session with employees at the Johnson Space Center, Bolden compared the Constellation Program to a stillborn baby calf extracted from a camel‘s womb by U.S. Marines, saying “We do the same thing. We’ve got some stillborn calves around, and we have got to figure out ways to help each other bring them back to life.”
In a June 2010 interview with Al Jazeera, Bolden said that the top three goals he was tasked with by President Obama were to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, to expand NASA’s international relationships, and, “perhaps foremost”, “to reach out to the Muslim world… to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science… and math and engineering”.
Bolden said his agency’s long-term ambition is landing astronauts on Mars. He has cited spending cuts as a concern for major NASA projects.
On August 28, 2012, he was the first human being to have his voice broadcast on the surface of Mars. Although the rover has no speakers, it received the transmission of his voice and then beamed it back to Earth.