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NASA's Charlie Bolden Gets Verklempt

By Ed O'Keefe

Charlie Bolden likes to talk -- and he's also prone to choking up.

Making his first major staff appearance as NASA administrator, Bolden spoke before agency employees Tuesday at Washington headquarters along with his deputy, Lori Garver. Over the course of 35 minutes of remarks -- which he admitted should have lasted for about five -- Bolden's voice broke and tears welled up at least five times.

Charles Bolden
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr.

Describing his visit on Monday to the White House with Apollo 11 astronauts, he said that Neil Armstrong "represented us so well," then stopped as his voice cracked for the fourth time.

"I cry because my dad cried," he explained. "He taught me how to cry. He was my high school football coach. He expressed to me, and everyone else he coached, to have something you're passionate about." NASA became his passion, he said, even though he admitted, "I never dreamed of being an astronaut. I definitely didn't dream of being administrator."

He also choked up when describing his views on the environment and what the Middle East looked like from Space.

Moving into a more formal tone, Bolden blasted critics of the space agency who have suggested in recent months that the lack of an administrator signaled President Obama's unwillingness to commit to future space exploration.

"I was insulted to hear people who we thought knew better say, 'Well, there's no one to talk to at NASA'" because it lacked a permanent administrator, he said, adding later "we don't need one" because rank-and-file career employees have carried the agency in recent months.

After months of delay in selecting a new administrator, President Obama nominated the Naval Academy graduate and retired Marine Corps major general earlier this year for the top space job. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- whose state is home to thousands of NASA employees -- lobbied hard for the nomination since Bolden piloted the shuttle that Nelson traveled on in 1986. His nomination all but assured, Bolden bused dozens of extended family members from his native South Carolina to pack the seats at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.

Bolden, 62, told the AP on Tuesday that he will be "incredibly disappointed" if people do not make it to Mars -- or beyond -- in his lifetime. His comments appeared to signal a shift in space policy that currently plans to get humans back to the moon by 2020 and then to the red planet or beyond.

During Tuesday's meeting, the new administrator also encouraged employees to reach out to reporters and bloggers or to use Twitter to spread bad news or concerns about agency policy.

“But share them with me and Lori and your supervisor too," he said. (Share news tips or concerns in the comments section below, or e-mail them to The Eye here.)

He also urged frustrated employees to consider moving on.

"If you don't wake up wanting to come to work everyday and you don't feel proud about what you do... go in and talk to your boss," he said.

"I can promise you we're going to help you with the transition. Even if you think we can't survive without you, we can."

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 22, 2009; 10:37 AM ET
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Talk amongst ya'selves...

Posted by: capsfan55 | July 22, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

it is nice and helpful!!
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Posted by: maggielindia | July 22, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I am thrilled to have as the new administrator at NASA someone who so clearly exemplifies what we are about as a people. I would suggest to General Bolden (What a great name for the person to head NASA!) that in addition to these thoughts:

He also urged frustrated employees to consider moving on.

"If you don't wake up wanting to come to work everyday and you don't feel proud about what you do... go in and talk to your boss," he said.

"I can promise you we're going to help you with the transition. Even if you think we can't survive without you, we can."

he look at finding ways of shedding the lowest performers entrenched in the agency. Without that kind of change, true achievement of the kind we saw in years past will never happen.

Posted by: JoelB8 | July 22, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

JoelB8, nice comments. Gen. Bolden sounds like an outstanding choice. May his dreams of seeing human exploration of space become reality!

Posted by: dcgrasso1 | July 22, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

It's a good thing that Charley, (a great guy, BTW) is adept at crying. He will be crying a lot after he hears what the POTUS plans to do with NASA.

This "Can't do" President likely plans to gut NASA's budget and lower the exploration sights of the agency to a focus on climate change and orbital test tube experiments.

Do we want to see US astronauts joining millions of other skilled Americans who are already in the unemployment line while our financially burdensome and ineffective technocratic social services infrastructure continues to encourage millions of Americans to live out lives of chronic dependency and irresponsibility?

We need a President who understands that NASA needs to be in the business of robust space exploration and not just as a theoretical science funding resources.

NASA is supposed to be in the business of building that "bridge to the stars" that will ultimately save us from the inevitable mass extinction that our descendants (or us!)will face. It is foolish to postpone construction of that bridge by restraining the incredible potential of that collection of engineers, innovators and skilled crafts-persons who are NASA.

Apollo was the best stimulus investment that the USA ever made. Those 1960 NASA dollars are still multiplying through our economy today.

Posted by: Jim_McDade | July 22, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Had great hopes for Bolden.

But very disappointed with the "if ya don't like it, move on" attitude.

Doesn't sound encouraging for fostering positive improvements in NASA's dissent-squelching-management style (called for by both the Challenger & Columbia investigation reports).

Maybe Bolden's unfamiliar with the most recent manifestations of really awful management. NASA's Wayne Hale does have some official blogs and video about it.

Posted by: MoonLady | July 23, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Let the sunshine in! Mr. Bolden's comment about humans going to Mars in less than 13 years is the most ridiculous statement made by a NASA Administrator yet -- we would be lucky to get to the Moon by then if we had the ca$$h to do that.

The first time he opens his mouth as NASA administrator he set himself up to fail?

I hope he doesn't turn out to be a one-trick-pony bent on manned-flight as the "future of NASA".

Its good that he knows what to do when frustrated -- he may have to follow his own advice in a couple of years from now.

Posted by: wp2006 | July 23, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

to JoelB8

"General" is not a name, it is a military rank -- his first name is Charles.

If I follow your logic, then it would be Ok for Obama to encourage Americans frustrated about the US economy to "move on" to Canada?

Posted by: wp2006 | July 23, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I was disappointed to hear Mr. Bolden refer to some NASA employees as being “frustrated” and stated “NASA could survive without them.” Most of the human resource surveys that I have read stated NASA employees as having rated NASA high on the rankings and as one of the best places to work so I wondered where he got that information from. In any case, I believe the position that “we can help you with the transition” was a bit presumptuous and implied they were trying to push certain employees out of their current positions rather than try and address any corrective actions against management which completely goes against a no fear policy to speak out.

Posted by: Employee1 | July 23, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

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