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Is Bolden right for NASA?

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One answer: It's hard to become a general officer in the military without it. And while it's been widely reported that Bolden was not President Obama's top choice, Bolden counts Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida as a very big fan. Senator Nelson served as a mission specialist on a shuttle flight Bolden piloted in 1986, when Nelson was a congressman. So Bolden has the ear of at least one influential politician on Capitol Hill.

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Another issue folks at the NYT raise involves Bolden's former ties to some of the companies building key components for the rocket-and-capsule system that is currently being built to replace the space shuttles.

General Bolden’s past ties to aerospace companies merit close examination. He consulted briefly for a company that makes engines for the first stage of a new space rocket under development. And he was a board member of a company that has a contract to build engines for a new astronaut capsule.

Bolden would not be the first administrator to come into the job with just-severed ties to major players in the US aerospace industry. But who's the alternative?

So, recommends the editorial board, the Senate should make sure it's satisfied that Bolden will be "fiercely independent." Of what? In the end, he's a political appointee, albeit with a dual role. Once a president sets out a goal for the space program, the administrator must represent it to the agency. At the same time, the administrator must speak up for the agency to the president and Congress.

As a former astronaut with four shuttle missions under his belt and a recent member of the agency's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Bolden certainly knows NASA. And NASA knows him.

As for the technical side of things, President Obama may have done Bolden (assuming he's confirmed) a big favor in handing a review of the manned spaceflight program to Norman Augustine. He's a highly respected, technically savvy, and politically well-connected aerospace engineer-cum-chair of US space- and aeronautics-policy review panels.

The way another historian, American University's Howard McCurdy, sees it, Augustine and his panel can carry the water on any technical reshaping of the human spaceflight program (or a decision to stay the current course) while Bolden -- who as a former shuttle commander has experience in keeping a team focused -- does the focusing number on the agency.

"Norm Augustine has been asked to resurrect his Augustine Report from almost 20 years ago and suggest a future direction for the space program at the same time a new NASA administrator with a very insightful understanding of the way the agency operates is coming in to lead NASA" Dr. McCurdy says. "It's an interesting combination."

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