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Personnel News

Bolden Visits JSC

By Keith Cowing
July 24, 2009

Keith’s note: The following was sent in by a NASA Watch reader who was present during the visit by Charlie Bolden to JSC on Friday. Any thoughts? Post your comments below.
General Observations:
* Teague Auditorium was packed–quite literally SRO. When General Bolden and Center Director Mike Coats walked on stage, they received an extended standing ovation, to the point that the General was, I do believe, embarrassed.
* Neither Bolden nor Coats wore a tie. They both sat in comfortable chairs and were outfitted with lapel microphones–no podium grabbing.
* Bolden went out of his way to emphasize his long friendship with Mike Coats. Coats reciprocated. They are clearly very close.

More below

* One couple who both work for NASA brought along their 10 year old son, a self-professed NASA geek. Bolden was so impressed he had the little guy come up on stage with him, passed him a microphone, and asked the young man “What do you want to do when you grow up?”. Without hesitation, his answer was “I want to be the first person to set foot on Mars”. So the General followed up with another question: “How is NASA going to do that?” The little boy’s answer (“I’m not sure, but they can’t do it alone”) was so perfect, I think even Bolden couldn’t believe the setup. This is because a major theme of the new administrator’s message to all of us was that NASA needs to collaborate, needs to be more open, that the days of the United States exploring space on our own are over–i.e. we need the help of other nations, and they need us.
* The General is very quotable, sometimes recycling oldies but goodies, and at other times speaking in a refreshing and frank (almost to the point of being blunt) manner. A few examples here:
* “Putting forth the same effort, or using the same approach, then expecting different results is…insanity”
* “Everything in this life results from divine intervention”
* “I believe in miracles”
* “God is a powerful force to recon with…even if you don’t believe in him”
* “I will be criticized [as NASA Administrator] for my support of education, but I want to make our assets available.”
Detailed Notes:
General Bolden delivered what I assume will be his standard opening remarks about his parents, and the fact that he dad was his football coach (and interestingly, that he felt his dad influenced him more in that role than as a father–mostly because he could see how the other guys admired and respected Charlie’s dad as “Coach”). He also mentioned that his mother was not comfortable at first with Jackie, his wife, but that the relationship definitely improved over time.
He then talked briefly about the fact that he and Lori Garver had visited Langley first, and that the rationale for doing so was that this was really the birthplace of NASA (as NACA). Bolden immediately followed these remarks by saying that JSC was his NASA “birthplace” as well as his home. Its where his kids attended Clear Lake High School.
He emphasized his desire for “reliable, redundant, regular access to space beyond low earth orbit”, saying he was quoting Mike Foale (when Mike spoke in Houston as part of a panel during the Third International Space Medicine Summit held at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Policy Studies in mid-May). In this regard, he specifically referred to plans by both China and India to send humans to the moon by 2025.
Question and Answer Session:
One person asked whether, in addition to international cooperation, we might also look forward to additional interagency cooperation within our own government, especially given his comment during his opening statement at his Senate confirmation hearing that restoring NASA to pre-eminence in research is a high priority for him. He answered by saying that yes indeed, this is among his highest priorities. He mentioned going first to meet with the FAA (where a long-time friend of his in now in charge), then to the Department of Education, NOAA, and the NSF.
Another question related to whether he could assure the workforce that the transition from Shuttle to Ares (especially during the gap) would not result in substantive job cuts. The General was less direct and expository here, criticizing NASA for not learning anything from previous experiences in this regard. He did not promise there would be no rifs, or other reductions in the workforce.
A third question (there were others, but I won’t cover them here) was “Why do we exist as an agency?”, beyond the obvious “exploration imperative” (the person asking felt that the case for Apollo being a highly politicized and key component of the cold war is strong–much stronger than e.g. exploration as a rationale). Bolden’s answer was essentially that it is in fact about exploration, but also about education of the next generation, and also R&D (in life sciences, in physics, in earth science, etc.).

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.