Saturday, May 23, 2009

Charlie Bolden gets the nod

President Obama has tapped Charlie Bolden to be the new NASA administrator. Bolden is a strong supporter of Project Constellation, and he has a proud history as an astronaut and a Marine.

Charlie flew on the STS-61C Space Shuttle Columbia mission, during which flight crew members deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission ended shortly before the launch of the Challenger in 1986.

He also flew on STS-31, Space Shuttle Discovery, which launched on April 24, 1990, and deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.

Then, on STS-45, Bolden commanded a crew of seven aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. During the nine-day mission, the crew operated the twelve experiments that constituted the ATLAS-1 (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) cargo. ATLAS-1 obtained a vast array of detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties, which contribute significantly to improving our understanding of our climate and atmosphere. In addition, this was the first time an artificial beam of electrons was used to stimulate a man-made auroral discharge.

Finally, in 1994, he commanded a crew of six aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-60), the first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle mission involving a Russian Cosmonaut as a mission specialist crew member.

He's got the cred.

However, he also lobbied for ATK, which manufactures the shuttles' solid rocket boosters, and I don't much care for lobbyists being put in charge of billions of dollars of taxpayer jack.

Bolden is a fan of manned space flight, which I think is a good thing. But I don't think manned space flight at the expense of unmanned, robotic missions is necessarily a positive position. I don't see why both can't remain an intrinsic part of our space program. Spirit and Opportunity, the two Mars "droids" have done an amazing job of imparting information over their lifespans, as have the various probes we have launched toward Pluto, Jupiter and the outer reaches of the solar system. And Constellation, which I support, is billions of dollars over budget.

And while I emphatically agree with the position that manned space flight is a necessary and important policy, I do see the need to get the costs under control. I have no problem with spending billions of dollars on the space program. I have a serious problem with allowing contractors to go billions of dollars over budget with no consequences.

All that aside, I think Bolden is a good pick. It can't hurt to have a former astronaut in charge of NASA.

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