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: That was a part of it, but my last mission was most memorable for the total experience from crew assignment to landing and post-flight appearances. And that’s over a space of about two years. If I compare the same two-year span for each of my other three flights, STS-60, which was the first joint Russian-American mission, it does stand out because it taught the value of not judging anyone based on their race, creed, color, nationality. It taught that when people come together for a common goal they can do almost anything, and that when people focus on their similarities rather than their differences, they can become an incredible team.  And it gave my family an opportunity to meet some absolutely incredible people who came from a really different culture.

A & S: You weren’t completely positive about participating in STS-60 at first.

Bolden: (Laughs) When I was told that I was going to be assigned to fly one more time, and I said, okay, what is it, and I was told it was the first joint Russian-American mission, I told 'em right away, I said, “Forget it. I’m a Marine. I trained all my life to kill those guys. They’d have done the same thing to me, and I don’t want to fly with them.” A mentor of mine told me to relax a little, and said that these two [cosmonauts] were in town, have dinner with them tonight and talk to them, and then let me know what you think.  And I had dinner with Sergei Krikalev and Vladimir Titov that evening here in Washington, and we talked about families, kids, and things we wanted in life. And by the time the dinner was over, I was sold. Even a Marine can change.

A & S: So does that give you hope that we will be partnering with more nations in the future? China, for example?

Bolden: I wouldn’t specifically pick any country, but we are constantly expanding our outreach with international partners. It is going to be critical as we go to this next phase of human exploration where we travel beyond low-Earth orbit. It will take the efforts of many nations for a trip, for example, to Mars.

A & S: What’s the most exciting mission on the horizon for NASA?

Bolden: The next one. For me as the NASA administrator, the most exciting thing on the horizon is always the next flight. A couple weeks ago, it was a spacecraft called Messenger. It was incredibly exciting, and there were no humans involved. It was the first spacecraft that we had sent into orbit around Mercury, a mission that had launched in 2004, had traveled 15 times around the sun. I was up at the Applied Physics Lab on the Johns Hopkins [University] campus, and that was pretty exciting.

In this business, we’re mission-oriented. We work to fly and we work to test and we work to do things. I don’t have very many people who come to work to sit around and talk about going fishing.


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