- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

HOUSTON | President Obama on Saturday chose as NASA administrator retired astronaut Charles Bolden Jr., a veteran space pilot and official who would become the agency’s first black leader.

Mr. Obama also named former NASA associate administrator Lori Garver as the agency’s No. 2. Mr. Bolden has flown in space four times and was an assistant deputy administrator at one point.

“These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America’s space program,” Mr. Obama said.

As Mr. Obama announced his choice of Mr. Bolden, thunderstorms prevented Space Shuttle Atlantis from returning to its home base Saturday for the second day in a row, and kept the astronauts circling Earth after a successful repair job at the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Atlantis crew is trying to wind up its Hubble repair mission, which launched May 11. It was NASA’s last visit to the 19-year-old observatory. The $1 billion overhaul should keep the telescope working for five to 10 more years. Atlantis has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Monday.

Mr. Bolden would also be only the second astronaut to run NASA in its 50-year history. Adm. Richard Truly was the first. In 2002, President Bush unsuccessfully tried to appoint Mr. Bolden as the space agency’s deputy administrator. The Pentagon said it needed to keep Mr. Bolden, who was a Marine general at the time and a pilot who flew more than 100 sorties in Vietnam.

“Charlie knows NASA, and the people know Charlie. There’s a level of comfort,” especially given the uncertainty the space agency faces, retired astronaut Steve Hawley, who flew twice in space with Mr. Bolden, told the Associated Press.

Mr. Bolden likely will bring “more balance” to NASA, increasing spending on aeronautics and environment missions, working more with other nations in space, and emphasizing education, which the president often talks about when it comes to space, said former Johnson Space Center Director George Abbey, a longtime friend.

“He’s a real leader,” Mr. Abbey said Saturday. “NASA has been looking for a leader like this that they could have confidence in.”

Mr. Bolden’s appointment came during the tail end of the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ mission to repair Hubble one final time. He was the pilot on the flight that sent Hubble into orbit in 1990.

Mr. Bolden, 62, would inherit an administration that doesn’t look much like the somewhat-fresh-from-the-moon agency he joined as an astronaut in 1980. NASA now “is faced with a lot of uncertainty,” Mr. Abbey said.

Mr. Bush set in motion a plan to retire the space shuttle fleet at the end of next year, and return astronauts to the moon and then to Mars in a series of rockets and capsules that borrows heavily from the 1960s Apollo program. The shuttle’s replacement won’t be ready until at least 2015, so for five years the only way Americans will be able to enter space is by hitching a ride on a Russian space capsule. In addition, some of NASA’s biggest science programs are over budget.

Earlier this month, the White House ordered a complete outside examination of the manned space program. The Obama administration hasn’t been explicit about its space policy, with White House science adviser John Holdren saying the policy would come after a NASA chief was named.

Mr. Bolden, a native of Columbia, S.C., and his wife donated $750 to the Obama campaign in 2008.

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Mr. Bolden spent about a decade, his impending appointment was quietly cheered all week long.

The diminutive salt-and-pepper haired Mr. Bolden, who lives only a few miles from the space center, on Saturday morning said he couldn’t talk until after his Senate confirmation. He was busy answering congratulatory e-mails from home. Mr. Bolden has his own consulting firm in Houston and sits on corporate boards.

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