Obama, Bolden discuss future of NASA

McClatchy NewspapersMay 19, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama met Tuesday with former astronaut Charles Bolden to discuss his increasingly likely nomination as NASA chief and explore the former Marine Corp. general's vision for the beleaguered space agency.

Bolden, who would be the first African-American to lead NASA, met in the morning with Obama in the White House Roosevelt Room across from the Oval Office.

Shortly after Obama and Bolden huddled, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave the clearest indication to date that the president has all but settled on his choice of NASA head.

Obama, Gibbs said, "hopes that he's the right person to lead NASA in the coming years."

Bolden, 62, was not available for reaction to his meeting with Obama. He told the Orlando Sentinel last week that he was "under an embargo."

Bolden would be the second astronaut to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, following Dick Truly, who ran it from 1989 to 1992 under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Truly, though, had flown on only two NASA missions totaling eight hours; Bolden has logged extensive space time with significant responsibilities.

Bolden was commander of two lengthy space shuttle missions, with 680 hours in total flight time.

Bolden later held several NASA administration posts, including assistant deputy administrator, before leaving the agency in 1994.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Bolden received a 1968 bachelor's degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a 1977 master's in systems management from the University of Southern California.

Bolden earned numerous military medals while flying more than 100 sorties in 1972 and 1973 during the Vietnam War.

Once a worldwide symbol of American drive and ingenuity, NASA has lost much of its glory since the 1960s, when it challenged the Soviet Union for space supremacy and landed the first man on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Obama said in March that NASA had "a sense of drift" with the planned retirement of the space shuttle next year and an uncertain future for human space exploration.

Obama two weeks ago ordered a three-month study of the U.S. space program, saying he would appoint 10 people to a blue-ribbon panel.

One of Obama's aims in meeting with Bolden was to gauge his comfort with accepting the panel's future recommendations, which could limit the retired general's ability to put his own imprint on NASA.

Gannet Tseggai, an Obama spokeswoman, said the two men discussed Bolden's vision for NASA's future and explored ways to strengthen the space agency.

Obama reiterated his belief that NASA must continue to succeed, Tseggai said.

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