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Nomination Hearing for NASA’s Next Administrator

Today the U.S. Senate will decide if Charles Bolden Jr. should take the helm.

Those who know him think it will take the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation “no time at all” to confirm that Charles Bolden Jr., a former astronaut and retired U.S. Marine Corps major general, should be the next leader of the U.S. space agency.

Bolden works with NASA engineers at Johnson Space
Center, in Houston, in 1992. Credit: NASA

“He is liked and well respected by everyone who has ever worked with him,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, also a former astronaut and now a professor in the aeronautics and astronautics department at MIT. “[Bolden] will have no problem getting approved. He has considerable support and a good relationship with Congress.”

Unlike the previous NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, Bolden is not an engineer. Hoffman says, when comparing the two, “Their styles are quite different, but both of them are committed to a strong space program, and just as Griffin did, Bolden will have to deal with budget problems.”

While Bolden may not be an engineer, he has spent plenty of time working with them as both an astronaut and a marine pilot. And to his advantage, says Hoffman, Bolden is a diplomat. “NASA is going to have to make big decisions–what are our plans for the utilization of [the space] station? How are we going to handle human exploration beyond low earth orbit?” Hoffman says. “Policies have to be made, and Charlie gets along diplomatically with people.”

The only concerns raised by Bolden’s confirmation are his connections to aerospace companies, which Hoffman dismisses. “That is what people do to gain the experience to be an administrator–you work in the industry. Griffin did it too.”

John Logsdon, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, in DC, agrees: “I don’t think there is any obstacle to his confirmation. People, the Senate, will ask about conflict of interest, but I don’t think there is a substantial issue there at all.”

Since Griffin’s retirement at the beginning of the year and the Obama administration took office, NASA has anxiously awaited its next leader–with good reason. The road ahead for the space agency is filled with uncertainties, mostly with the future of human space exploration. Currently, an independent committee is reviewing NASA’s plan, called the Constellation Program, and the building of its next launch vehicle to send humans to the moon and Mars. The committee’s recommendations are due at the end of August.

If Bolden is selected, Logsdon says that he will wait for that review before making any big decisions. “He has deep experience, is a recognized leader, is trained to make tough decisions, and is a very outgoing, people-oriented person,” says Logsdon, also a chair in aerospace history at the Smithsonian Institute, in DC. “But it is a good panel, with people that can do in-depth technical analysis and have reputations for integrity.”

The confirmation hearing for NASA’s second in command, deputy administrator Lori Garver, will also take place today. The hearings begin at 2:10 P.M. EST.

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