The Politic lecture series, The Politic Presents, was standing room only Tuesday afternoon, with students jam packed at both entrances into LC 102. Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, waded through an audience that spilled out into the aisles, onto the floor. “Looks like a full house,” Derek Soled ’16, Publisher of The Politic, commented to laughter across the room.
Justin Schuster ’15, former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Politic, began the interview by asking if Bolden had always wanted to be an astronaut. Administrator Bolden answered with military precision: “No, I did not. I never dreamed of being an astronaut.” He elaborated, “They were all 5’10” white males.” He started his career as a Marine Aviator and test pilot until he was accepted into the NASA Space program in 1980. Between 1980 and 1994, he completed four space flights, piloting two and commanding two. He was confirmed as the first African-American NASA Administrator in 2009.
“My job is to convince you [that] what we do is worthwhile,” Bolden joked. He described NASA’s value as international and interdisciplinary. The International Space Station serves as a “United Nations in Orbit” for scientists from many countries to collaborate on mutual goals regardless of national tensions. Exploration of planets like Mars not only promotes scientific discovery, but also predicts the future of the earth and humanity. Through these endeavors, NASA paved the frontier for the commercialization of space for businesses as well.
It is a process of mutual growth: like private companies, NASA is adopting digital data records. Bolden noted many challenges in space exploration, like risking the loss of crews or vehicles. “There will be losses,” he warned. “Losses come with anything that’s bold and worth trying.” A great advantage of a national program is the ability to take more risk for greater rewards.
And the rewards are very real. When questioned about the Curiosity mission, Bolden lit up. “Oh, awesome!” he said in describing the Mars Rover, which is currently ascending the base of Mount Sharp, approaching geographical layers which could reveal traces of water or even confirm the presence of extraterrestrial life. Unveiling the history of the neighboring red planet will help predict the future of our own planet and ourselves.
Bolden believes that landing people on Mars is one of the four most exciting prospects in the future of NASA over the next twenty years. He also anticipates the advent of true autonomous aircraft, the development of game changing fuel sources that decrease risk and increase speed (like nuclear power), and the investigation of distant exoplanets – earth-like planets that may support life – which number around 700 in the known universe.
In the present, Bolden’s focus is on earth. One of NASA’s major goals is to investigate climate change. For the first time, the Space Center will have earth observing telescopes trained toward our planet. A mission will be launched next week to measure the sea level, height, and wind across the oceans, and the following project will measure aerosols with new technology that allows simultaneous imaging of Earth’s atmosphere from multiple angles. Despite the extraterrestrial nature of space exploration, Bolden explained, “Everything we do is to make this planet better than it’s ever been.”
Administrator Bolden was the first speaker of a lecture series on a variety of political topics. He will be followed by Jack Devine, former CIA Director of Operations, on Thursday, September 18th.