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)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 3)

A & S: Aside from the International Space Station, what will the space shuttle be remembered for?

Bolden: It will definitely be remembered for being the vehicle that enabled us to get the International Space Station successfully assembled on orbit, but it depends on what your favorite thing is.  If you’re a scientist or an astronomer, it will always be remembered as the vehicle that delivered the Hubble Space Telescope, then flew four successful servicing missions capped off by one of the most spectacular flights in the history of the shuttle program, STS-125, when we did five back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back space walks and carried out every objective of that flight when no one thought we would be able to finish everything.

You look at other satellites that it deployed: Magellan, Ulysses. You look at the space laboratory that was flown on it, or the space habitation module. The people that it took to space. We now see, when you look at an astronaut crew, it’s usually a rainbow of people—all races, all genders, all nationalities. That would not have happened had it not been for the space shuttle, so there are countless things that the space shuttle will mean, just depending on who you are and where you sit.

A & S: Can you tell us something about the space shuttle that most people wouldn’t know?

Bolden: The thing that most people don’t know is that the space shuttle is the largest glider in the world. Most people think the space shuttle is an airplane when it comes back, but it’s a 270,000-pound glider that has the flying qualities of a brick. 

When you talk about airplanes, you use a term called lift-to-drag: how much lift does the wing produce compared to the amount of drag or resistance to flight does the whole body of the thing generate. A commercial airplane is about 12 to 1. Gliders get up to 26 or 30 to 1. The shuttle is about 3 to 1. What that says is that for every mile that you [lose in altitude] the shuttle will travel three miles. And the reason you see us point the nose at the ground until we go through 2,000 feet is that when you pull the nose up, the shuttle loses one nautical mile per hour per second.  So it goes from 300 mph while it’s doing that dive short of the runway to 195 mph in a matter of seconds.

A & S: What’s the lesson to take away from the space shuttle program?

Bolden: The number one lesson is that what we do is dangerous and risky. The number two lesson is that we can overcome any adversity as long as we stay together and work as a team and have a positive outlook on what we’re about to do.

Another lesson would be that international partnerships are absolutely incredible and invaluable, as demonstrated by the success of the International Space Station, which has now been permanently occupied for some 10 years or more.

A & S: Regarding international cooperation, you’ve said that your last mission, STS-60, was your most memorable. Is it because that was the first mission flown with a cosmonaut?

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus