Bolden urges kids to hit the books, blaze new trails

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was in Seattle last weekend to celebrate the legacy of one of America’s fallen astronauts, Spokane native Mike Anderson, who died in the shuttle Columbia tragedy eight years ago. Today the Museum of Flight is home to the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program, which gives underserved children of color from around the state the opportunity to participate in the museum’s educational programs. Saturday dozens of kids, their parents, and a big crowd of community members gathered at the Museum of Flight.

“Each February NASA joins with the nation in recognizing National Black History Month,” Bolden said. “It’s a time to recognize the enormous contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s achievements. It’s also a moment to reflect on how far we have come as a nation. When I was a young man, my service as NASA’s first African-American administrator under the nation’s first black president would have been nearly unthinkable. Through the efforts of many people of all races, our nation has really changed. Thanks to the space shuttle program and NASA’s cross-disciplinary missions, African-Americans and many others have had access to space and also to science and technological careers.”

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden spoke during a Black History Month program Feb. 5 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. "It's one of my great pleasures as NASA administrator to talk to young people about my experiences and help them decide if a career in science, technology, engineering, or math is for them," he said. Photo: Ted Huetter, Museum of Flight.

“I like to tell young people that I hope they will take the progress of previous generations, the example of people such as Mike Anderson, and make it their own,” Bolden added. “That they will blaze their own trails.”

Doug King, president and CEO of the Museum of Flight, said there’s never been a better time for education at NASA.

“No agency in the federal government has done more for education, and I include the Department of Education, than NASA,” King said. “Over the years NASA has contributed in so many ways at every level of education. Not just in inspiration, getting young people excited, but in research, in helping people step through careers into aerospace and so many other fields.”

Bolden told the gathering that’s a key part of the agency’s mission.

“President Obama challenges us to focus heavily on science and technology development to meet the country’s future needs,” he said. “At NASA we’re proud of our continuing investments in the future of the U.S. science and technology workforce, investments that will help us to win the future with more opportunities and more capabilities. If all of us here today follow the example of Mike Anderson and dedicate ourselves to strive for excellence in all that we do, we’ll ensure that President Obama’s goal to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build every other nation in the world becomes reality, and will guarantee that we maintain technological leadership in the world.”

Statue of Mike Anderson

This statue of astronaut Mike Anderson is outside the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Anderson died in the Columbia tragedy, but his legacy lives on through the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Bolden embraces the educational mission.

“It’s one of my great pleasures as NASA administrator to talk to young people about my experiences and help them decide if a career in science, technology, engineering, or math is for them,” he said. “Certainly we need more people pursuing those careers, and we need more minorities and women in those careers. Those groups are underrepresented in high-tech careers, even though there are countless examples, most especially at NASA, of women and minorities who have excelled and really made their mark in these fields.”

Several other African-American aerospace professionals joined with Bolden to talk about their paths to success. The panel included former Tuskegee Airman Ed Drummond; Lt. Col. Kimberly Scott, an Alaska Airlines pilot and U.S. Air Force Reserve C-17 pilot; Lt. Col. Rod Lewis, commander of the C-17 squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; and Alaska Airlines Capt. Michael Swanigan. U.S. Air Force Deputy Inspector General Maj. Gen. Harold “Mitch” Mitchell moderated the panel. They all urged the assembled students to hit the books and listen to their teachers, but hinted, too, at a bit of the rebel spirit that helped each get where they are today.

Bolden wrapped up his remarks with a stirring assessment of where NASA is today.

“It’s a history making time, an era at its dawning, and I for one am very excited about where we’re headed,” Bolden said. He talked about a variety of upcoming NASA efforts, including the final space shuttle flights, the Messenger mission to Mercury, the Mars Science Laboratory, the Juno mission to Jupiter, Solar Probe Plus, various Earth science missions, and planning how to get to Mars. But clearly Bolden looks fondly on the shuttle program, for which he flew four missions.

“The shuttle was instrumental in breaking down the color barrier in space, and giving women and people of many nationalities opportunities to fly in space and see our planet the way everyone really should: as a peaceful, beautiful place with no borders except the ones that nature has provided,” Bolden said.