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Bolden, Charles F.

Enshrined 2017 1946-

Excelling in all he has done;  Marine aviator, test pilot, combat pilot, Vietnam War Veteran, Space Shuttle astronaut, NASA Safety Officer, USNA Deputy Commandant, and NASA Administrator,  there is no part of Charlie Bolden’s life that hasn’t been dedicated to not only public service, but to the betterment of humankind. 

Charles F. Bolden, Jr. was born on August 19, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina, where he graduated from C.A. Johnson High School. In 1968, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Science from the U.S. Naval Academy, and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. As a Marine combat aviator in Southeast Asia in 1972-1973, he flew over 100 sorties in the A-6A Intruder in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

In 1977, Bolden attained a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, and in 1978 he graduated from the prestigious Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. While working at the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates, he served as a test pilot.  Bolden flew over 6000 hours assessing projects including the A-6E, EA-6B, and A-7C/E. 

Bolden’s 34-year career with the Marine Corps included 14 years as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Corps. After being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1980, he traveled to orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions and piloting two others. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, the first joint American-Russian shuttle mission, and commanding the first Spacelab mission dedicated to Earth Science. Bolden also received various technical assignments at NASA, including Astronaut Office Safety Officer and Chief of the Safety division at Johnson Space Center in Houston, during which he oversaw the safety efforts for the return to flight after the 1986 Challenger accident. Bolden later served as the lead astronaut in vehicle test and checkout in Florida, and Assistant Deputy Administrator at NASA Headquarters. After commanding his final shuttle flight in 1994, he left NASA and returned to active duty with the Marine Corps as the Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In 1997, Bolden was assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the Pacific. During the first half of 1998, he served as Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Forward in support of Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait. He was promoted to his final rank of Major General in July 1998. He later served as the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. In 2003, Bolden retired from the Marine Corps, and prior to his appointment as NASA Administrator, he served as the Chief Executive Officer of Jack and Panther, LLC to provide leadership, military, and aerospace consulting.

On 2009, Charlie Bolden was, with the support of Senator Bill Nelson (FL), nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate as the 12th Administrator of the NASA. He began his duties as head of the agency on July 17.

As NASA Administrator, Bolden directed the transition from 30 years of space shuttle missions to a new era of the use of International Space Station and space and aeronautics technology development. Under his direction, the agency developed the Space Launch System rocket (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts to deep space destinations such as asteroids, the Moon and Mars, and also established a new Space Technology Mission Directorate to develop cutting-edge technologies. During Bolden’s tenure, NASA supported the development of commercial space transportation systems which led directly to the successful SpaceX crewed Dragon mission in the summer of 2020, ending U.S. reliance on Russia to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Additionally, Bolden supported NASA’s contributions toward the development of cleaner, faster, and quieter airplanes. NASA’s dynamic activities under his direction included an unprecedented landing on Mars with the Curiosity rover, the launch of a spacecraft to Jupiter and the enhancement of the nation’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites.  He advocated for NASA science, leading the James Webb Space Telescope through budget difficulties, and strongly supporting NASA’s work on Earth’s climate.  Bolden championed the NASA-USAID program SERVIR, which helps developing countries utilize NASA Earth Science data to increase climate resiliency and pivoted the agency to work on architectures to get humans to Mars in the 2030’s, providing a strong central mission and vision. Furthermore, he worked to increase NASA’s aeronautics funding, tirelessly advocating for the agency’s fundamental, ongoing contributions to American aviation.

On August 28, 2012, Bolden was the first human to have his voice broadcast on the surface of Mars or any other planet. Although the Curiosity rover has no speakers, it received the transmission of his voice and then beamed it back to Earth.

Administrator Bolden retired as NASA Administrator on January 20, 2017.

Major General Charles Bolden, USMC (Ret) has received many awards and accolades from around the world for his many courageous endeavors.  He has been awarded ten Honorary Doctorates and was the recipient of the Rotary National Space Trophy in 2014 and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in service to his country and the world in 2019. Bolden’s many military decorations include the Navy Astronaut Badge, Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (1 award star), Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (1 oak leaf cluster), Air Medal (1 award star and Strike/Flight numeral 8), NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Service Medal (2 award stars), NASA Space Flight Medal (3 award stars), Navy Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal (1 service star), Vietnam Service Medal (2 service stars), Vietnam Gallantry Cross unit citation, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006 and enshrined into the Congressionally chartered National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) in 2017. 

Charlie Bolden has been an enduring friend and passionate mentor to countless people. He has counseled fellow astronauts, as well as many NASA employees. Respectfully and “under the radar”, on every NASA trip overseas, Bolden prioritized visits with Marines at every Embassy, encouraging them in their service to the United States.

When Orville Wright wrote to the Smithsonian asking for advice while working on the 1903 flyer, he said “I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future worker who will attain final success”. Charlie Bolden is constantly working to add his mite to all that is known, inspiring his coworkers and the next generation to do more and give back to their country.

Bolden has been an accomplished military pilot, a veteran Astronaut, a leader in the Military and in the Space Program, and tonight we are proud to welcome him into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.