During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Veteran Charles Bolden, an aviator, an astronaut and a NASA administrator.
Charles Francis Bolden Jr. was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in August 1946. His parents, both teachers, impressed upon him the importance of receiving an education. After finishing high school, Bolden enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He graduated in 1968, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical science, and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
After completing flight training, Bolden became a naval aviator and served in Thailand during the Vietnam War. From 1972 to 1973, he piloted an A-6A Intruder and flew more than 100 combat missions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. After returning to the U.S., Bolden attended the University of Southern California, receiving his master’s degree in systems management in 1977. He went to the Naval Pilot Test School in Maryland in 1978 and completed his training in 1979. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1980.
As an astronaut, Bolden worked in a variety of roles, including safety officer, technical assistant to the director of flight crew operations and special assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, Bolden served as chief of Johnson’s Safety Division, in charge of efforts to ensure the safety of the space shuttle fleet. Bolden himself flew aboard the space shuttle four times, piloting Columbia in 1986 and Discovery in 1990—the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope—before commanding Atlantis in 1992 and Discovery in 1994. He also served as assistant deputy administrator of NASA.
After his last shuttle flight, Bolden left NASA and returned to active duty in the Marine Corps. He served as deputy commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and as commanding general of the Marine expeditionary force during Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait. Bolden retired from the Marine Corps in 2003 with the rank of major general.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Bolden as administrator of NASA, making him the first African American—and the second astronaut—to hold that post. As NASA’s administrator, Bolden oversaw the transition of America’s space program away from decades of shuttle missions toward new technologies and commercial space ventures by private companies. He also oversaw continued missions of exploration, such as the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars.
Bolden left NASA in 2017. Throughout his career, he flew over 6,000 hours in more than 30 types of aircraft and logged over 680 hours in space. He received a Defense Superior Service Medal and a Distinguished Flying Cross. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inducted him in 2006.
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Writer: Stephen Hill
Editors: Annabelle Colton and Theresa Lyon
Fact checker: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley