Columbia native Charles Bolden has had a remarkable career: Marine fighter pilot, commanding general in Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait, deputy commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Those distinctions are impressive enough, but he is best known for his work for NASA, as both astronaut and head of the entire agency. Recently retired as administrator of NASA, he recalled his most famous flight, as pilot of the space shuttle Discovery, which in 1990 deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, from which science has gleaned an immense wealth of information about the universe, far more than was ever imagined. As proud as he is of that mission, he is just as excited about NASA’s future: the next giant telescope, the James Webb scope, will “dwarf” the data science has gotten from the Hubble, he said.
NASA is also planning on returning to the moon before heading for Mars, perhaps by the 2030s. Surprisingly, Bolden said his most exciting time with NASA was not going into space, but having the chance to work with “just incredible human beings, who don’t ask any favor. They just want to come to work every day and make the world a better place.” Not so surprisingly, then, NASA was named the best place to work in the federal government five years running. But you can’t get the pilot out of a pilot: asked if he’d like to return to space one day, Bolden did not hesitate. “Yes,” he enthused. “In a heartbeat.”