Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace


Who was the first black to lead NASA’s space program?

The first in a series of joint ventures between the United States and Russian space programs began on February 3 and ended on April 11, 1994. Black commander Charles Frank Bolden Jr. (1946–) was the first black to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s shuttle Discovery mission on such a joint venture. In 2009 Bolden became the first African American to lead the NASA space program. With that appointment, Bolden became America’s leading voice for space exploration. He also became the twelfth administrator of the agency, with responsibility for managing NASA’s resources as well as advancing its mission and goals. President Barack Obama appointed the highly decorated and highly regarded Bolden to the position, and on July 15 the Senate confirmed his appointment. Of his experiences in space, Bolden said “I never dreamed of being an astronaut,” but admitted that astronaut Ronald McNair encouraged him to apply for the space program. “And had it not been for him, who knows what I would have been doing now, but I wouldn’t have been sitting here as NASA administrator.” NASA’s manned space program ended in July 2011.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Bolden graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and fought in Vietnam where he flew over one hundred combat missions. He received his master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1977. He was a candidate for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) from 1980 to 1981 and did systems development group work for NASA. Bolden held several positions with NASA, including serving as special assistant to the director and pilot on the STS 61-C for Johnson Space Administration. He was commander for STS-60, the Russian/American Space Shuttle Mission. In May 2006 he was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.


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