Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator discusses his career at the Agency & his life in the military:



BRIAN LAMB: Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, if you had your choice, would you rather be an astronaut in the shuttle or run the NASA administration?


CHARLES BOLDEN: Oh, since I’m running the NASA right now, I’d rather be doing what I’m doing.


BRIAN LAMB: Two hundred billion dollars, 30 years. Was it worth it?


CHARLES BOLDEN: It was worth every dime. As a matter of fact – let me start with what I think shuttle did for the nation over its incredible 30 years that most people will never think about unless somebody tells them. The technical world that – in which I live is very non-diverse. There are not a lot of people who look like me. In fact, there are in the history of the Space Shuttle Program, there were only two pilots of African-American descent, in 30 years. And there are a lot of different reasons for it, some of which we are not proud of because we just didn’t – I think we didn’t work hard enough. But Shuttle brought diversity to an incredibly technical program. It allowed people of all walks. We have had a farm worker. We have had school teachers. We’ve had people like me go to space who never would have done that had it not been for the Space Shuttle era. That’s a human interest side of what the Shuttle did and for this nation that professes to be the shining city on the hill. I think that’s important. There is – there are two other nations that can send humans to space right now – China and Russia.


BRIAN LAMB: What is your guess that space travel will be like 10 years from now? How many countries will be involved in it and will there be people landing somewhere out there in space?


CHARLES BOLDEN: Ten years from now, we will still be operating, I hope on the International Space Station as our toe hold to the universe. I would love to say that 10 years from now, humans will have landed on Mars, but that’s not the course on which we’re embarked. The president challenged us to put humans on Mars or at least in the Martian environment in the 2030s. So we’re a little – that’s a little far outside the 10-year window. We should be there. We should have been there now. But there may be humans on the moon inside that 10-year window if NASA is successful in fostering the development of commercial space and entrepreneurial space to the extent that we’re trying to do right now. There are some private enterprises who really believe that they can put humans on the moon. And so we have – we have formal agreements with some of them to provide engineering expertise and other assistance, you know, in a non-reimbursable basis. So it is conceivable. My belief is, you know, my personal belief is that it probably is a little bit outside the 10-year timeframe.


BRIAN LAMB: What about either Russia or China?


CHARLES BOLDEN: No, not in 10 years. You know, technologically, we have the capability of doing it. We are about leading the world in exploring deeper into space than we’ve ever done before. And so that’s why we embarked on two big human enterprises over and above the International Space Station right now. By 2025, humans should have come in contact with an asteroid. They’ll be in – some call it cis-lunar, some people call it trans-lunar. But they’ll be in orbit around the moon, around our moon. But interacting with an asteroid if we’re successful in a new asteroid strategy that we’ve been working on for several decades now, but we formally introduced as a part of the president’s 2014 budget. And then after that, as a follow on, if we are able to develop the technologies from that mission, solar electric propulsion, increased efficiency in our life-support, in our environmental control and life-support systems such that the cabin in which the humans live can stand an eight-month trip to Mars and then, you know, living perhaps in something like that for prolonged periods of time. And then just new spacesuits, new spacewalk suits, all kinds of things. There was a – radiation protection is probably the biggest challenge right now for an extensive trip all the way out to Mars. But that’s where we’re going.


BRIAN LAMB: When did you command the shuttle with joint with the Russians?


CHARLES BOLDEN: 1994 was my last flight shuttle – my last space shuttle mission. People always ask what, you know, what’s your greatest – your fondest memory from your time in the space program meaning what was the greatest thing that happened to you in orbit, and it wasn’t in orbit. My fondest memory of my 14 years in the space program prior to now is the two plus years that I spent training with Sergei Krikalev and Vladimir Titov and having their family live alongside us in Houston, Texas; my family getting to know theirs, all the families working together, for me that was priceless. And we remain the best of friends to this day. But that was 1994.


BRIAN LAMB: Why, you know, when you read the daily reports coming out of Russia, it doesn’t look like we have much of a relationship compared to what we expected to by now? Why do we get along in space, but do not get along in politics?


CHARLES BOLDEN: Because we have a mission. And we are doing something that both nations recognize has a tremendous impact on humanity and the world. We are both dedicated when it comes to technological advancement of humanity. They want to do deep space exploration with us. They would like to do some robotic missions to the moon. They teamed with us to get to Mars. Russia has been trying, since they were the Soviet Union, to put something on the surface of Mars and have it work. And the first time that happened was when they flew a radiation instrument as a part of the scientific package on Curiosity. And it is today the source of much of the radiation data that we talked about last week in a press conference that tells us about the radiation environment between Earth and Mars and now the radiation environment on the surface of Mars. And it’s going to be critical for us because it’s going to help us as we further the design of the crew – of the vehicles to carry crews and of the places in which we live when we get to the Martian surface. But we have a mission and we have a common goal and a common understanding. I did not want to fly with the Russians by the way. I was at NASA headquarters when I was the assistant deputy administrator.


So I was working for Dan Goldin, the NASA administrator at the time, the number three guy in the agency, thinking I would never fly in space again. And my – one of mentors came in and said, hey, we want you to go back to Houston. I said, that’s great because I hate DC – and he said, we want you to fly and want you to command a mission. At the time, one of my hidden desires was to go back and fly as a commander for the first Hubble servicing mission because I had flown on the mission that deployed it, and it wasn’t in – it was great, but not in the best shape when we left it. And so to complete the circle, I really wanted to command the first station – HST servicing mission. Dick Covey got an opportunity to do that. But the flight next after that was the first joint Russian-American shuttle mission, and I got named to command that. And I told him initially, you got the wrong guy. I’m a Marine, I trained all my life to hate them and kill them and they did the same thing for me. And they said, you know, how about calming down for a minute. Two guys are going to be in town tonight, would you go have dinner with them and talk? And we did got together with Sergei and Vladimir. Sergei was a fluent English speaker, young engineer, aerobatics champion from Moscow. Vladimir was a colonel in the Russian Air Force, MiG-21 pilot, spoke not a word of English. But the three of us sat and had dinner that night, and all we talked about was our families and our kids and, you know, what we want to do. And I said, I can do this.


BRIAN LAMB: So why wouldn’t we just think that the Russians were going to get involved instead of looking at our secrets and take them back to Russia?


CHARLES BOLDEN: We worried. We did worry, but we had – we had practices and policies in place that allowed us to limit their access to certain things. You know, they – there were places they couldn’t go. We had KSC or JSC. We don’t …


BRIAN LAMB: What about the Chinese?


CHARLES BOLDEN: You know, I don’t – I am prohibited by law from working in a bilateral respect with the Chinese, and that’s …


BRIAN LAMB: Why is that?


CHARLES BOLDEN: Well, because the Congress after I – the president and president Hu when he made an agreement between the U.S. and China to do what’s called a joint committee in many areas. And I went to China to – as a part of that agreement to see their human space flight program, but the – some members of Congress did not appreciate that. So they put it into the law. They wrote it into the appropriations act that forbade NASA from doing bilateral relations with China which is OK for right now. We are busy and we are embarked on working with all of our other international partners on a future which is exploration, which is going to Mars, going to an asteroid, doing those kinds of things.


BRIAN LAMB: How many astronauts are on the space station right now?


CHARLES BOLDEN: Right now, there are six. And as I mentioned before, two of the six are American. And that’s a typical complement. Typically, there will be two to three Americans, two to three Russian and then one or two at max of other nation, of partner nation astronauts.


BRIAN LAMB: And an Italian.


CHARLES BOLDEN: We’ve got an Italian right now.


BRIAN LAMB: You were involved in Kuwait?


CHARLES BOLDEN: I was. I lived in Kuwait for a year.




CHARLES BOLDEN: Between wars.


BRIAN LAMB: Yes, but what were you doing back then?


CHARLES BOLDEN: I was – I had left the space program and come back to the operating force of the Marine Corps and I at the time, I was a commanding general of what was called the First Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.


BRIAN LAMB: Does it work?


CHALRES BOLDEN: Does what work?


BRIAN LAMB: Putting a military man in a civilian agency. I mean, they clearly made NASA non-military.


CHARLES BOLDEN: Well, we’ve had two administrators – only two, who have been – I’m not active duty, so – but Dick Truly was a – I think he was active duty when he first came in as the – as the NASA Administrator. It makes no difference what their background is. I think I’m qualified for this job. Whether I am or not, historians will have to tell. I love my work. I think my people enjoy working for me. I try to make – my job is to facilitate their success, to make them the number one place to work in government. So one thing I’ve done is make them the best place to work. I’ve allowed them to make us the best place to work in government. Chris Cassidy earlier has been in Iraq and Afghanistan, now he is on the International Space Station. He’s a SEAL. He’s a Navy SEAL. . We have a number of – at one time, about half of our astronauts were active duty military. And they come from all walks of life and from all over the military. I mean, I, you know, I was a military test pilot when I applied for the space program and I was picked up. And I went all the way through my 14-year career on loan to NASA from the Marine Corps. NASA reimbursed for my salary but the Marine Corps, you know, they let me go for 14 years and then I went back.


BRIAN LAMB: So, though, you say this space – International Space Station’s up there 13 years. What’s it do?


CHALRES BOLDEN: We do lots of stuff. Most of it is scientific investigations in everything from life science, microbiological science, solar science. We now have a number of Earth science experiments that are there looking at Earth, looking at the atmosphere. We now are doing technology development. There’s something called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that is the product of many, many nations, more than 20 nations that have – it’s a science experiment. It is – it is a basic Physics experiment looking at the beginning of time.


BRIAN LAMB: Which shuttles were you on? ((showing pictures))


CHALRES BOLDEN: That probably on Columbia with now Senator Bill Nelson, as a matter of fact. That was my very first flight into space. It was the flight immediately prior to Challenger. We lost Challenger 10 days after this landing. My second and fourth flights were on Discovery. And the second one was when we deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. Discovery, the last time was the first joint Russian-American mission. And then my third flight, which was the first time I was actually the commander on a mission. That’s the Hubble crew right there with Dr. Kathy Sullivan who’s now the Acting NOAA Administrator and was America’s first woman to walk in space.


BRIAN LAMB: How many astronauts are currently active?


CHARLES BOLDEN: In America, we – I want to say we have about 60. Some odd – we are about to announce probably early this coming week – next week we’ll announce the selection of eight brand new astronauts who I’m hoping that people will be very happy to see.


BRIAN LAMB: With only the Space Station having astronauts on, what do those 60 do?


CHALRES BOLDEN: Oh, they are – they are overworked. We have people in training for Space Station continually. And the difficult thing about training for Station today is that going up on the Soyuz spacecraft, they have to be qualified to be crew members on Soyuz because the American is almost always the flight engineer. So it means they have to – three things they have to do today that I didn’t have to do. They have to be fluent in Russian because they have to be able to read the instruments in Soyuz and they have to be able to communicate with the Russian mission control in Moscow. They have to be proficient in robotic operations. And then everybody has to be able to do a space walk. When I was in the program, pilots – not only did you not get an opportunity to do it, you were prohibited from doing a space walk because there were only two pilots on board and we didn’t want to run the risk of losing a pilot or having a pilot incapacitated because of the bends or some of the other risks that went along with space walk. Today, everybody, every astronaut has to be available to do a space walk on the International Space Station. So, real different from when I was there.


BRIAN LAMB: Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, we are out of time and we thank you very much for ...the last hour.


CHARLES BOLDEN: No, thank you. Thanks so very much. This was enjoyable, thank you.

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