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Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr.

Aerospace engineer and major general (ret.) Charles F. Bolden, Jr. was born on August 19, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated from C.A. Johnson High School in 1964. Both of his parents, Charles and Ethel Bolden, were teachers and stressed the importance of education. Bolden received his B.S. degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, and earned his M.S. degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1977. He then accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation from the Naval Academy and underwent flight training at Pensacola, Florida, Meridian, Mississippi, and Kingsville, Texas.

Between June 1972 and June 1973, Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the A-6A Intruder while stationed in Nam Phong, Thailand. After returning to the United States, Bolden served in a variety of positions in the Marine Corps. He was then assigned to the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he completed his training in 1979. While working at the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates, he tested a variety of ground attack aircraft until his selection as an astronaut candidate in 1980. Bolden’s NASA astronautical career included technical assignments. He served as pilot on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. In the wake of the Challenger disaster, he was assigned as the chief of the Safety Division. In 1990, he piloted the Space Shuttle Discovery during its mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Bolden served as the Mission Commander for Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1992 and the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994. He logged more than 680 hours during these four flights. Bolden left NASA and returned to the U.S. Marine Corps in 1997, and was assigned as the Deputy Commandment of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. During Operation Desert Thunder-Kuwait in 1998, he was assigned as the Commanding General of the Marine Expeditionary Force. He was promoted to Major General in 1998. In 2003, Bolden retired from the Marine Corps and served as president of the American PureTex Water Corporation. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Bolden as the top NASA administrator, making him the second astronaut and the first African American to serve in this position.

Bolden’s military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. NASA awarded him the Exceptional Service Award in 1988, 1989, and 1991. In May of 2006, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Bolden and his wife, Alexis Walker, live in Alexandria, Virginia. They have two children: U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Anthony Bolden, and Michelle Bolden, M.D.
Charles Bolden was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 28, 2012 and February 3, 2017/

Accession Number

A2012.229

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/28/2012 |and| 2/3/2017

Last Name

Bolden

Maker Category
Middle Name

F.

Schools

United States Naval Academy

University of Southern California

C. A. Johnson High School

Naval Air Test Center

First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

Columbia

HM ID

BOL03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Japan

Favorite Quote

Do The Best You Can.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

8/19/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Aerospace engineer and major general Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. (1946 - ) served in the United States Marine Corps and was a pioneering astronaut with NASA, where he also served as administrator.

Employment

United States Marine Corps

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

American PureTex Water Corporation

TechTrans International Corporation

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden. Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his mother's Episcopal upbringing, and her career path

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. reflects on his similarities to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about Charles Drew

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his brother and their childhood home

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the neighborhood where he grew up

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the house where he grew up

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. continues to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his earliest encounters with math and science

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his earliest memories of watching sports on television

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls his favorite science program on television

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his experience in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his earliest memories of the civil rights movement

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls his experiences with segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. shares his memories as a high school football player

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes experiencing segregation as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his interest in the U.S. Naval Academy and the Marine Corps

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his high school achievements

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his experience at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the influence of his mentor at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the academic rigors at the U.S. Naval Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the tension following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the influences that shaped his decision to join the Marine Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes serving in the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the A-6 Intruder attack aircraft and A-6 missions

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. discusses the new rules of war

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his thoughts on being an astronaut

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls 1969, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the time during and after the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. obtains his master's degree at the University of Southern California

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes how he became a test pilot with the Marine Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes Dr. Ronald McNair's role in wanting to be an astronaut

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the first African American astronauts in space

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his acceptance into NASA's Space Program in 1980

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his early days at NASA

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. discusses America's waning interest in space

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his first project at NASA

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes preparing for his first mission into space

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes being aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating of Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr.'s interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers seeing Earth for the first time from space

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes how he came to join the NASA space flight program

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. lists the crew aboard the STS-61-C mission

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the various roles aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the reasons for Space Shuttle Columbia's extended flight

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the landing procedures of the Space Shuttle Columbia

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the debriefing process following a space flight

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger's failure

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers the crew lost aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his position as chief of the Safety Division at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers his second space mission to launch the Hubble Space Telescope

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the Hubble Space Telescope

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the different views of space

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes NASA's Shuttle Transportation System

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his flight aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls the experiments aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his position as the assistant deputy administrator of NASA Headquarters

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers the members of the Congressional Black Caucus

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers his Russian crew mates aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the Russian space program

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the scientific experiments aboard STS-60

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls an incident aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the influence of the Russian space program upon NASA

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. remembers travelling to Belgium and Russia

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his return to the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his promotions and various positions within the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about Operation Desert Thunder

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the U.S. military actions leading to the Iraq War

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the Iraq War

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the regime of Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the highest ranking African Americans within the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his positions immediately following his retirement

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the creation of Jack and Panther LLC

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. recalls his presidential appointment to NASA administrator

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes the support of NASA within the U.S. government

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the debates concerning global warming

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his goals and objectives as NASA administrator

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the need for diversity within NASA

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. shares his hopes for the future of NASA

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. reflects upon the state of STEM education in the United States

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about the effects of space travel

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. shares his advice for younger generations

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. shares the advice he received from Robert L. Gibson

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
Charles Bolden recalls his experiences with segregation
Charles Bolden describes being aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia
Transcript
Okay. Now do you remember segregation vividly--$$Very well, yeah.$$--in growing up?$$Yeah, that was all I knew.$$Yeah, well, what was it like going into downtown Columbia--$$I've--it was okay 'cause you knew where you, you knew where you could go and where you couldn't. And you knew where you better not go. And, and so you just kind of governed your life that way. It was, in many ways it was a lot easier than when I got to the Naval Academy where, you know, Baltimore and other places were recently integrated to be quite honest, but they weren't. And so even then there was de facto segregation. And you could really get yourself in, in, in a bad way going into some places in and around Annapolis, for example, and not know that you weren't supposed to be in there. You went in there because that's where all the other midshipmen went. But they made it very clear when you came in that, you know, you were not welcome. And that, that lasted all the way--I graduated in 1968. And I remember one of the, the worst experiences I had at the Naval Academy was, was just before my graduation when we were told we couldn't--there were, there were three of us, three, three of my friends got in--Buddy Clark, who turned out to be my best man in my wedding and was from Chicago; Frank Simmons, who was from Birmingham, Bessemer, Alabama; and, and me. And we went into a, a place in, on the outskirts of Annapolis in Maryland and, and we were told that they wouldn't serve us, that, you know, we had to go around the back. And we, we were not inclined to do that so we (chuckle), we, we finally left after some time. But it was not, it was not nice, yeah. So I, I've, I remember segregation very, very, very vividly, yeah.$Alright. Now, okay, as you were ready to fly then this is, this is January you said of '86 [1986]?$$When I flew?$$Yeah.$$It was January--well, we started in December. We were scheduled to fly in December. And we went to the launch pad--I can't remember the date. But we got down to fourteen seconds, no, no, no, yeah, we got down to fourteen seconds and, and the system aborted because it detected a, some problem in the right-hand side rocket booster. And they, they didn't know whether it was real or not. And so it, it was in the hydraulic power unit that, that moves the nozzles around. And so they decided that we would scrub for the day. And as they got into it, they realized they had to get in and actually change out a box. And so that caused us to slip completely through the Christmas holidays and into the new year. So then we came back, I want to say we came back down on the 3rd of January and attempted to launch and didn't. We got down to thirty-one seconds and didn't get off because we had a problem with one of the main engines. Then the next time we went out we got down to thirty-one seconds and this time not only did we, did--well we had problems with a, with a main engine valve and it wouldn't close properly. And when they, when they did the troubleshooting after we got out of the vehicle and it turned out as they were detanking the time before a, a thermal probe had broken off. And it jammed one of the, one of the valves. So, turned out to be a good day not to fly because couple of things could have happened, the, the worse being the back end of the shuttle would have blown off because it would have gotten an uncontrolled shutdown because the valve couldn't close carrying the liquid oxygen, liquid oxygen. And the motor, the engine would have over spun and (indicates explosion)! So, so it was a good thing we didn't fly that day. Then the fourth time we went out, we, we laid out there on our backs for two hours in a thunder storm, in a driving thunderstorm with lightening and stuff going on. And we finally talked our way out of the vehicle. We, we started talking among ourselves and--because we knew the flight surgeon was listening in on the, on the intercom. And so we started talking about being worried about getting hit by lightening, laying out there on the metal, on, on top of four million pounds of propellant. So they finally said, okay, we're gonna scrub for the day, and they came and got us. And, and then the next day we went out, which was the 12th of January--flawless. Everything, I mean, everything went like clockwork. And we launched and then came back. Originally we were only gonna fly four days and then the weather at, at the Kennedy Space Center [on Merritt Island, Florida] just kept getting worse and worse and worse. So, so we got an extra three days tacked on. So we ended up with a seven-day mission, but we landed in the middle of the night out at Edwards Air Force Base [in East Kern, California] because the weather just never improved at, at Kennedy [Space Center]. And so that was the 18th of January and in--$$Now what was the flight like? I mean, what--$$It was awesome. I mean it was, you know, my first time in space. Just getting, just getting yourself adapted to being weightless and moving around and, and, and that kind of stuff. And then we had a lot of work to do. We had a lot of, we had a lot of very small experiments plus we had, we had one satellite, one RCA satellite, communication satellite called SATCOM KU-3, KU-2, that serves today. It's a, it's a KU band satellite that's used to get television imagery down. I think it had--HBO was one of the channels it was gonna be on this particular satellite. And then we did a lot of medical experiments, which I enjoyed quite a bit. And then we had the infrared imaging camera on that, that I got a chance to play with quite a bit with Bob Cenker.$$Okay.$$And then, you know, we landed, like I said, on the 18th of January. And we're in the closing phases of our debrief on--what was to have been the last day of our debrief we were sitting in, in, in a debriefing room at, at the Johnson Space Center when we took a break to go watch Challenger launch. And, and seventy-three in sec-, seventy-three seconds in the flight it just disintegrated. And so life changed after that.