Charles Bolden, who has been awarded the prestigious FAI Gold Space Medal for 2016, knows about space. Not only has he been in orbit four times, but for the last seven years he has been at the head of NASA.
He was made Administrator in 2009, appointed directly by President Barack Obama, and since then has been focused on leading the space agency on many fronts. Those include studying Earth from the International Space Station, exploring other planets with the Mars Curiosity Rover expedition, and developing “cutting edge technologies” for “the missions of tomorrow.”
In October this year he announced exactly what the most ambitious of those “missions of tomorrow” is. Writing on his regular NASA blog, he set out the plan to “[Make] human settlement of space a reality.”
He described the type of missions that we can expect to see in the coming decades. Bringing an asteroid in by robot to orbit around the moon is one. Transitioning from the current International Space Station to a future one, is another. Sending people to Mars a third.
“We’re working to extend our reach into deep space,” he wrote. “Make no mistake, the Journey to Mars will be challenging, but it is underway.”
He added: “We are pushing the boundaries of exploration and imagination.”
Born in August 1946, retired Marine Corps Major General Charles Frank Bolden, Jr, has spent his life in service to his nation, both on Earth and in Space.
After joining the US Naval Academy aged 18, he served in Vietnam as a naval aviator and completed more than 100 combat missions.
After becoming a test pilot in the late 1970s he joined NASA in 1980 and trained as an astronaut. He travelled to orbit four times aboard the Space Shuttle, between 1986 and 1994.
He re-joined the Marine Corps in the mid-90s, and was promoted to Major General in 1998, finally retiring from the Marines in 2003. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006, and made NASA Administrator on 17 July 2009.
Since then his focus has been on Space, and by default, Planet Earth. “We’re working ‘off the Earth, for the Earth,’” he has explained before.
That includes measuring climate change and other environmental issues from Space, an issue he regularly writes about.
“NASA is uniquely positioned to study our home planet,” he wrote in January 2015. “Earth observation has been at the core of the agency’s work since our founding … our work has global implications.”
Looking to the future is part of his job. “In April 2010, the President challenged the country – and NASA – to send American astronauts on a Journey to Mars in the 2030s,” he explained earlier this month.
“By reaching out further into the solar system and expanding the frontiers of exploration, the President outlined a vision for pushing the bounds of human discovery.”
The FAI congratulates Major General Charles Bolden on being awarded this year’s FAI Gold Space Medal.
Charles Bolden’s blog
Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls