NASA Cannot Sustain Current Path, New Chief Says
Charles Bolden, nominee for Administrator of NASA, testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2009. Lori Garver, nomine for debuty NASA chief, is in foreground.
Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

This story was updated on July 23.

WASHINGTON - NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden displayed the softer side of his management style while promising strong leadership at a critical time for the space agency during a Tuesday address to agency employees broadcast from NASA headquarters here.

During the hour-long talk, which included remarks by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Bolden said the agency faces numerous challenges in a time of economic uncertainty, including a call from the White House to find an affordable and sustainable way to reach the Moon and points beyond.

?The challenge is to figure out the most efficient and cost-effective path to get there,? Bolden said the day after NASA commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing on Monday, 1969. Bolden, who was sworn into office July 17 alongside Garver at NASA headquarters, said that while the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is committed to human space exploration, the agency ?cannot continue to survive on the path we are on.?

Bolden talked about accompanying Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins to the White House the day before to? meet Obama, who spoke before the cameras about the lasting legacy of the Moon landing, the ?extraordinary work? the agency does today,? and his confidence in Bolden and Garver to ?continue the inspirational mission of NASA.?

?We are an incredible organization,? Bolden told agency employees. ?Raise your head and say you?re proud to work for NASA.?

Bolden talked openly about his upbringing and beliefs, labeling himself? an ?environmentalist,? a ?social liberal and a fiscal conservative? who will promote an open-door policy with NASA employees. He also characterized his approach to the media as ?friendly,? but urged employees to bring bad news to senior staff rather than sharing it with the press.

Bolden, who said during his July 8 confirmation hearing that safety would be a top priority as NASA administrator, told employees that work-related casualties are an all but inevitable part of the space business.?

?We?re in a very, very risky business,? Bolden said. ?People don?t like to hear that, but they?re going to hear it from me.?

Bolden described himself as a man of faith with a healthy respect for all religions, a warm and light-hearted Episcopalian and an unabashed ?hugger? who is not shy about expressing emotion. ?That?s the other thing you?ll get used to. I cry.?

The child of two educators, Bolden spoke of the importance of teaching and the difference a caring adult can make in the life of a child. He encouraged NASA employees to work with kids through volunteer and community service opportunities.

Bolden said he and Garver are? meeting with senior White House officials this week in an effort to address the space agency?s challenges, including a forthcoming decision on the path ahead for NASA?s manned spaceflight program.

During his talk, Bolden said he would be relying on Garver for her organizational skills and policy expertise.

?Some of you will be flustered because I?m not very detailed,? Bolden said. ?Lori, thank God, is somewhat more detailed and so you will find that she?s organized. I?m not. We make a great team. She knows a lot of policy, I know none. She knows Washington, I know a little.?

Bolden also introduced former National Space Society executive director and Virgin Galactic adviser George Whitesides as his chief of staff.

Garver, who is returning to the agency after an eight-year hiatus in the private sector, said she hopes to better communicate NASA?s relevance to policymakers as well as the American public in an effort to restore the agency?s faded luster since the last U.S. lunar landing more than a generation ago.

Garver, who previously served as a NASA associate administrator for policy and plans, said she was encouraged by the media attention the 40th anniversary commemoration had garnered, and lauded America?s pioneering role in the international space station, which she characterized as ?keeping the country and the world together.?

Garver, who accepted a hug from Bolden during the televised address, said she shared her new boss?s effusive management style.

?I know feelings are something that weren?t too popular the last few years at NASA. But we?re back. Feelings are back,? she said.

Her remarks stood in sharp contrast to those of Bolden?s predecessor, Mike Griffin, who once told a Capitol Hill breakfast audience, ?I don?t do feelings. Just think of me as Spock.?