Confirmation hearing set for first black to head NASA

WASHINGTON — Charles Bolden will tell senators Wednesday how he plans to restore U.S. space exploration to its 1960s-era glory days at a confirmation hearing for the first African-American nominated to head NASA.

Bolden, a Columbia, S.C., native and retired Marine Corps general, would be only the second former astronaut to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since its creation a half century ago by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican and Senate Commerce Committee member, planned to introduce Bolden at the panel's hearing.

DeMint met with Bolden, 62, last month to discuss his vision for revitalizing the beleaguered space agency.

"I was impressed with his knowledge of NASA, and I am confident he will provide valuable leadership to the agency at a critical time in its history," DeMint said after the meeting.

"All South Carolinians should be proud that one of their own has been selected for such an important role," DeMint said. "I look forward to supporting General Bolden's confirmation and to working with him to improve NASA in the years to come."

The Senate hearing will give Bolden, a graduate of C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia when it was still segregated, an opportunity to make his first public comments on taking the NASA helm since President Barack Obama nominated him in May.

Bolden is also expected to address concerns among some NASA scientists that as a former astronaut, he would favor manned space exploration over research on global warming and other vital scientific work of the agency.

Obama said in March that NASA had "a sense of drift" with the planned retirement of the space shuttle next year and a scheduled five-year gap in manned space exploration.

Obama in May set up a panel to study the U.S. space program. He met with Bolden at the White House to gain assurances that the former astronaut would be open to implementing the group's major findings.

Bolden is one of three South Carolinians named by Obama to prominent posts.

The Senate last month unanimously confirmed former S.C. public schools chief Inez Tenenbaum to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing next week for Mignon Clyburn, the eldest daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, to sit on the Federal Communications Commission.