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Ex-astronaut to lead NASA

Sat., May 23, 2009

Announcement timed to shuttle’s return

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will name former astronaut Charles Bolden as NASA administrator, according to three congressional sources. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the retired Marine Corps general will be the first African-American to head the agency.

The timing, the sources said, is keyed to the landing of space shuttle Atlantis, which remained in orbit Friday because of bad weather but will return today or Sunday. They were called Friday and briefed by the White House, which would not comment for this article.

The president also will announce that his campaign space adviser, Lori Garver, will be Bolden’s deputy, the sources said.

Bolden would take over an agency in flux, one that needs to redefine its mission, adapt to budget realities and re-establish a sense of purpose to satisfy a chief executive who has called it “adrift.”

Obama will make the announcement less than a week after the two men met in the White House for an interview that included frank discussions about Bolden’s ties to NASA contractors and his opposition to future budget cuts that Obama has suggested may be necessary.

In picking Bolden, who could not be reached for comment, the president will throw his support behind a man who flew more than 100 combat missions during the Vietnam War before joining NASA for four shuttle flights – including two as commander. Bolden, 62, would be the second astronaut to lead NASA.

But Bolden was not Obama’s first choice.

Earlier this year, the president favored one of his campaign supporters – retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration – but Gration was shot down by opposition on Capitol Hill. Foes in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also sank the bid of Steve Isakowitz, an Energy Department official.

Nelson has been Bolden’s biggest champion. The two men flew together aboard a shuttle mission in 1986. Nelson’s office could not be reached for comment.


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