Charles Bolden, Former Head of NASA, Is The Winner of The 2017 David H. Wilkins Award For Civic Leadership

Charles Bolden

A former Marine Corps General and astronaut who was the 12th administrator of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), Charles Bolden has inspired countless South Carolinians with his determination to move past barriers created by segregation and racism.

A 1964 graduate of C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, Bolden had long dreamed of entering the U.S. Naval Academy, but no South Carolina Congressman would appoint him to the Academy. Undeterred, he petitioned President Lyndon Johnson and soon won an appointment from an Illinois Congressman. He became a naval aviator and went on to break many more barriers.

During his 34 years in the Marine Corps, Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He led various Marine forces at locations around the world, including in the Pacific, Kuwait, and Japan. His many military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After joining NASA’s Astronaut Office in 1980, Bolden traveled to orbit four times aboard the space shuttle, commanding two of the missions and piloting two others. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.

As head of NASA from 2009 – 2017, Bolden led the NASA team to successfully land the Curiosity rover on Mars, launch a spacecraft to Jupiter, and develop the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts to Mars and beyond. Because of his people-centered leadership, NASA was named the best place to work among large federal agencies for five years in a row.

Bolden remains committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers by sharing his experiences and encouraging more young people from underserved communities to study science, technology, engineering and math courses.


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