Meet NASA’s 12th Administrator

Charles Bolden talks about commercial space, flying fast and the shuttle’s legacy

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. (NASA)
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Bolden: Every experience I’ve had teaches me something else about leadership, but by the time I flew on the shuttle, I had had a lot of leadership experiences because I had been in the Marine Corps for more than 15 years by then. I had been through the Naval Academy, where leadership is the focus of all of your training, so I had learned quite a bit. 

One of the things that [shuttle command] re-emphasized about leadership was the critical importance of teamwork, the importance of being able to admit that you don’t know something or that you may have made a mistake, because just like in the Marine Corps, it’s really critical that your team be able to trust you. Literally, each one’s life is in the others’ hands. So people have to be able to believe that when you say something, you know what you’re talking about, and you’re telling them the truth. 

A & S: Did you ever feel in your moments as a commander that the lives of the astronauts on the crew were in danger?

Bolden: Never. Not a single time. I didn’t feel that we were in danger at any time in any of my four flights. 

A & S: Even though your first flight was to have been the 1986 Challenger flight, when the vehicle and crew were lost?

Bolden: It was to have been Challenger. Our crew got shifted six months prior.

A & S: Did that fateful change affect your attitude when you next flew?

Bolden: Not at all. You know some people go through life asking “Why me?” I have no clue why God does what he does with me, and I don’t worry about it.

A & S: No added nervousness after the Challenger catastrophe?

Bolden: No. It’s always easier to fly than to watch your friends fly. When we flew STS-26 [the first post-Challenger mission], [we flew] Rick Hauck and his crew. After we returned to flight after Challenger, it’s probably the most nervous…I don’t know, call it nervousness, fear…I don’t know. That was the worst I felt. Watching Rick and his crew launch.

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