2021 Phelps Award Recipient Charles F. Bolden Jr.
First as a Marine Corps Major General and then as NASA Administrator, Charles F. Bolden Jr. has dedicated his life to the service of the United States, working to secure our nation’s security, prosperity, and guiding efforts to explore our universe and better understand our fragile planet.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Bolden to be the 12th NASA Administrator, making him only the second astronaut to hold that position. While heading NASA, Bolden oversaw the transition from the space shuttle system to a new era of exploration, fully focused on the International Space Station (ISS) and aeronautics technology development.
Bolden led the development of the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Capsule. Bolden also oversaw the shift toward commercial space initiatives handling resupply of the ISS. He created NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, responsible for developing the technology that will make future exploration missions successful. Bolden’s tenure included the triumph of the Mars Curiosity Rover landing, the success of the Juno mission that is helping us understand the planet Jupiter more completely, increasing the number of satellites tasked with Earth observation tasks, and continuing progress toward the expected 2021 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Not forgetting that the first “A” in NASA stands for Aeronautics, Bolden also focused his attention on NASA’s aeronautics programs and the agency’s goal of developing airplanes that can travel faster, farther, quieter, and greener than ever before.
During his career as a NASA astronaut, Bolden flew on four space shuttle missions, logging over 680 hours in space. He piloted Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986 (STS-61C) and Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990 (STS-31) – the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. He also served as Mission Commander on Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1992 (STS-45), and Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994 (STS-60). Bolden also served as Chief of NASA’s Safety Division at the Johnson Space Center in the wake of 1986’s Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Bolden also had a long and distinguished military career. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Bolden flew over 100 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He later served as a test pilot for the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates. After completing his service as an astronaut in 1994, he served as the Assistant Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, and in 1998 as the Commanding General of the Marine expeditionary force attached to Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait. He last served as Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, prior to his retirement from the Marine Corps.
Bolden holds a Master of Science Degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California. His past honors include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, three NASA Exceptional Service Medals and four NASA Space Flight Medals. He received the Rotary National Space Trophy in 2014 and holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from numerous institutions of higher education. He was inducted into the U.S Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2016. He served as a U.S. Department of State Science Envoy for Space from 2018-2019.
Bolden is married to the former Alexis Walker of Columbia, SC. They have two children, A. Ché Bolden, Colonel, USMC (Ret.), Dr. Kelly Bolden, MD, and four grandchildren – granddaughters Mikaley, Kyra and Talia and grandson Walker Elias. He serves today as the Founder and CEO Emeritus of The Charles F. Bolden Group LLC, a veteran-owned small business specializing in space/aerospace exploration, national security, leadership, education (STEM+AD) and health initiatives.