Obama Picks Charles Bolden As NASA Chief

President's pick Charles Bolden is a former astronaut and Marine general.

ByABC News
May 26, 2009, 2:09 PM

May 27, 2009— -- Charles F. Bolden Jr., President Obama's choice to head a struggling NASA, has been in high places before. He spent 14 years as an astronaut, from 1980 to 1994, flying four space shuttle missions, including two as commander.

But a question of celestial proportions looms. Can Bolden, who spent so much time and effort as a shuttle pilot, bring NASA new life, now that the shuttles are being retired?

People who know him praise him as a natural leader and a nice, level-headed man.

He came from the Marine Corps, flew 100 sorties as a pilot in Vietnam, remained on duty during his astronaut years, and returned there after his final space flight, rising to the rank of major general before retiring in 2003. He spent 34 years in the military.

"He has the people skills and the technical skills to get the job done," said Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut who has served on advisory panels with Bolden -- and was chosen to be an astronaut by a panel on which Bolden served. "He knows how to read people, and mold them into a team."

Bolden happens to have been on the crew of the shuttle mission that released the Hubble space telescope into orbit in 1990. The crew of the shuttle Atlantis just finished refurbishing the Hubble for the last time.

President Obama, announcing the appointments of Bolden and his deputy, Lori Garver, said, "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."

That may sound like standard Washington rhetoric, but for NASA, "vibrancy" is perhaps the key issue.

The agency has wandered, looking for new direction ever since the Apollo astronauts went to the Moon 40 years ago.

Robotic probes, such as the Mars rovers, have been successes that caught the public imagination. But the Space Shuttles have turned out to be delicate and expensive, and the International Space Station (ISS) cost $100 billion.

Assuming the Senate confirms him, these will now be Bolden's headaches.