Charles F. Bolden: From Astronaut to NASA Administrator

Learn about this remarkable career from flight school to astronaut corp.

By Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

1986, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Charles F. Bolden was born in Columbia, South Carolina. From a young age, he knew, like his father and uncles, that he wanted to serve in the military.

In a 2012 lecture, Bolden shared of his family: “They served with distinction, but not always recognition because of their race.”

Space was far from the youngster’s mind.

Charles F. Bolden In Flight Suit, NASA, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
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Bolden had a distinguished career long before his days as an astronaut. As a naval aviator, Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions. Following training at the Naval Test Pilot School, Bolden tested a variety of ground attack aircraft with the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates.

In 1980, Bolden was selected as an astronaut candidate and became an official astronaut in 1981.

1993-12, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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During his time as an astronaut, Bolden flew on four missions aboard the Space Shuttle. Two missions are particularly noteworthy. Bolden served as the pilot aboard Discovery for STS-31, a mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. On his final spaceflight, STS-60, Bolden served as commander for the first US/Russian Shuttle-Mir Program.

In 1994, Bolden returned to active duty with the Marine Corps. He would eventually retire from the Marine Corps in 2003 with the final rank of Major General.

Charles F. Bolden at Orion Launch, NASA, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
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Bolden returned to NASA in 2009 after being nominated by President Barack Obama as the agency’s 12th administrator. He led the agency in developing the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, meant to carry astronauts into deep space. During his tenure, NASA also supported commercial space transportation systems enabling the first commercial cargo resupply of the International Space Station. He resigned in 2017.

Bolden with Stephen Hawking, NASA, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
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During his distinguished career, Bolden has received numerous awards and honors including induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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