WASHINGTON - Formerastronaut Charles Bolden, picked by President Barack Obama to become the nextNASA administrator, told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency must re-igniteAmerican interest in the space program, akin to the excitement over the moonlanding and even the initial shuttle years.
During his confirmationhearing Wednesday, Bolden said the key would be finding ways to get youngstudents interested in science and engineering.
"If I go to aclassroom today, it's different than when I went as an astronaut in 1980,"he told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science andTransportation.
"I could ask, 'Howmany of you want to be an astronaut?' Every hand went up in the class. When Igo to a school today and ask that question, I may see three hands. All of themwant to go into business."
Bolden received widespreadand effusivesupport from lawmakers, indicating an easy confirmation for the retiredMarine Corps general.
He also had a largecheering section in the audience and in a nearby hearing room set up to handlethe overflow: Several dozen of Bolden's friends and family members traveled bychartered bus to attend the confirmation hearing.
Although he now lives inTexas, Bolden was introduced by the two Republican senators from his home stateof South Carolina.
"The president of theUnited States has chosen very wisely," said Sen. Lindsey Graham. Bolden"is the right man at the right time, with the right skills it takes andcharacter."
Bolden, 62, would becomeNASA's first black administrator.
He said that as he wasbeing raised in the segregated South, his race initially hindered his abilityto attend the Naval Academy because his congressmen refused to appoint anyonewho was black. Ultimately, Bolden met a retired federal judge who wasrecruiting minorities for military academies. A lawmaker from Chicagoeventually nominated Bolden.
"If anyone representsa characteristic that we admire - that being the characteristic of an overcomer - Charlie is that," said Sen. Bill Nelson,the Orlando Democrat who flew with Bolden on a 1986 shuttle mission. Nelsonalso lobbied the White House to pick Bolden.
Bolden's nomination comesat a critical time for NASA. The shuttles are scheduled to be retired nextyear, and a White House panel is reviewing the Constellationprogram, which is slated to replace it.
"Does NASA really havea future?" said the committee's chairman, Sen. John "Jay"Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "People refer to what hasbeen done. Very few refer to what might be done.
"I need bolstering onNASA, personally," he said. "It's drifting. I think that'sindisputable. So what do you plan to do to change this?"
Bolden said he wants theagency to pour more resources into research and development.
The committee must stillvote on Bolden and Lori Garver, who was nominatedto be Bolden's deputy. Their names would then be forwarded to the full Senatefor a confirmation vote.
- Video - Back to the Moon with NASA's Constellation
- Obama's Pick for NASA Chief May Win Quick Approval
- Video - NASA's Constellation Journey Begins: Part 1, Part 2
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