Tag Archives: Charlie Bolden

Remembering fallen astronauts

By odd coincidence the three tragedies that have befallen the United States space program have occurred at this time of year.

Challenger explosion

The space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after being launched Jan. 28, 1986. Photo: NASA.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the first—the Apollo 1 cabin fire that killed the three-man crew during a launch pad test. Tomorrow marks the 27th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger a minute and 13 seconds after STS-51-L was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, killing all seven crewmembers. And Friday, Feb. 1 will be the tenth anniversary of the deaths of seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during the re-entry of STS-107.

The Challenger disaster is especially vivid in my memory, even though I didn’t actually see it happen. I was a cub reporter at KJR radio in Seattle at the time, and was working the late-night shift, so I’d slept late that day as usual. By late morning or early afternoon I wandered out to get a haircut. My barber immediately struck up a conversation about the space shuttle that blew up. I had no idea, and remember thinking he must be joking. The whole idea was unthinkable and too horrible to imagine. But later I saw the video of the launch on television, and the photos of the smoke plume of the launch and explosion are certainly iconic images.

The crew of that  final mission included schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who was one of the astronauts killed in the explosion. McAuliffe was chosen for the flight from among thousands of applicants to NASA’s teacher in space program. As a side note, at the time there also was a journalist-in-space program, and I was all set to apply, even given the long odds that an unknown radio news producer from Seattle would beat out Tom Brokaw for the seat. The program was scrapped after Challenger. Strangely, there was apparently some consideration of starting the program back up a decade ago when the Columbia disaster happened. It may be bad luck to even consider letting a journalist near a spacecraft!

Apollo 1 crew

L-R: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launchpad test of Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967. Photo: NASA.

I don’t really remember the Apollo 1 fire or watching any news coverage of it. I was nine years old at the time, and already a space nut. I kept a scrapbook of news clippings about the Gemini missions and space walks and the exciting adventures of the astronauts. What I do remember is the big, bold headline announcing the tragic deaths of the astronauts. Again, it was unthinkable. I imagine those scrapbooks are still over at the old homestead.

When NASA looks back on these anniversaries it is in celebration. Earlier this month NASA Administrator Charles Bolden talked about the upcoming day of commemoration while on a tour of the shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

“We go out to Arlington [National Cemetery] and we honor the memory of all three crews that were lost over the history of human spaceflight,” Bolden said. “We think about it every day, but we take those particular times and set them aside when we can let everyone else join us and help celebrate.”

Bolden is in Israel right now helping to celebrate the life of Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut who was aboard Columbia when it was lost in 2003.

“We lost some really valiant people,” Bolden said, “but what their sacrifice brought is what we should really be thinking about. The fact is that they dared to challenge and do things differently. Because of what they did we’re well on the cusp of going deeper into space than we’ve ever done before.”

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden during a February 2011 event at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Photo: Ted Heutter, Museum of Flight.

Bolden said it’s important for museums to tell the story of space travel as we look at the International Space Station, watch the growing involvement of private, commercial companies in space travel, and consider the possibilities for mining of asteroids or of human missions to other planets.

“None of that stuff would have been possible had it not been for the sacrifices of those in the shuttle program,” said Bolden, himself a four-time shuttle astronaut.

The Museum of Flight has a special event planned for next Saturday, Feb. 2, which will remember the astronauts as part of its Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program. Anderson is a Spokane native and astronaut who also died aboard Columbia. Former astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr., who was a member of Anderson’s astronaut class, will keynote the event, which also will include a panel discussion by local African Americans who are pursuing successful careers in aerospace. The event begins at 2 p.m. and is free with museum admission. It’s usually an inspiring event; you can read our coverage of it from last year, and from 2011 when Bolden was the keynote speaker.


NASA administrator tours shuttle trainer exhibit at Museum of Flight

NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden says Seattle’s Museum of Flight scored big when it landed the space agency’s Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) for permanent exhibit.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Bolden flew four shuttle missions and trained in the FFT, as did all shuttle astronauts. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“I think the Museum of Flight won the prize when it comes to education,” Bolden said during a tour of the exhibit this week at the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. “No other place with an orbiter can do what is done here. No other place can have somebody essentially walk in the same footsteps that John Glenn, John Young, other people walked when they go through the payload bay or they go up on the flight deck or the mid-deck. That’s actually where we trained.”

When NASA announced at the end of the shuttle program that it would award the retired orbiters to museums around the country, it set off an intense competition between some two dozen institutions that all wanted one of the prized artifacts. The Museum of Flight went all-in and built the $12 million, 15,500 square-foot space gallery with no guarantee that it would receive a shuttle. When Bolden announced two years ago that the shuttles would go elsewhere, Museum of Flight President and CEO Doug King recognized that being able to go into the FFT would be a great draw for visitors. Sure enough, it’s been very busy since the exhibit opened in November.

Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at the Museum of Flight Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It’s been huge,” King said. “We had record attendance all through the holidays and on into this year.” He added that a special education program, though which a small number of visitors actually visit the crew cabin, has sold out every weekend.

The exhibit is truly impressive. For one thing, the FFT is gigantic. I attended several events in the space gallery before the trainer arrived, and the room is enormous. The FFT virtually fills it. The gallery includes a half-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps the most famous payload ever carried by a shuttle, and a mockup of the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage that was used to launch satellites into space from the shuttle. There’s also a Soyuz capsule, a Charon Test Vehicle from Blue Origin, and information about many of the commercial spaceflight efforts in the works. These may well be the source for future additions to the exhibit; King already has his eye on one of the Dragon vehicles being flown by SpaceX, and envisions an “arrivals” board for the gallery that identifies what is flying in next. Bolden added that exhibits about the commercial space ventures are important to inspire kids who are the next generation of engineers, space adventurers, and dreamers.

King says he expects the museums with the flown orbiters also will create fantastic exhibits.

Charles Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden emerges from the hatch of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer, now on exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, during a tour Jan. 15, 2013. Every shuttle astronaut used that hatch and trained in the FFT. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“The one in Los Angeles already looks great, and the building they’re eventually going to put it in will be spectacular,” he said. “We’ll encourage everybody to go see it, then come here and go inside.”

Bolden flew on four shuttle missions and spent countless hours training in the FFT, so for him the museum’s exhibit brings on fond memories, and some painful ones. He joked about using the trainer to practice emergency escapes from the shuttle, and said every astronaut had just one thought in mind during the exercises.

“Do not fall off the rope. You don’t want to look bad,” he laughed, noting that there were always cameras recording the training. “You did not want to be memorialized as one who slipped and fell and looked like an idiot laying down there on the mat.”

The FFT is a most interesting exhibit. Go walk in the footsteps of the astronauts and check it out at the Museum of Flight. Watch the slideshow below for a preview, and for more scenes from Bolden’s visit!


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.

Bolden visit tops Seattle astronomy calendar for week of Jan. 31

Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator and former astronaut Charle Bolden will be in Seattle Saturday to participate in a panel discussion on African-Americans in aerospace, part of the observance of Black History Month at the Museum of Flight. Photo: NASA.

NASA administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden will be in Seattle Saturday to participate in a panel discussion on African-Americans in Aerospace, part of the Museum of Flight‘s observance of Black History Month. Other panelists include 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 will moderate the discussion. The event begins at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, and is free with museum admission.

More MOF events
Feb. 3 is the monthly Free First Thursday at the Museum of Flight. Enjoy the exhibits at no charge from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday the museum’s Weekend Family Workshops will be about the Saturn V. Participants will learn about the rocket that took the astronauts to the Moon, and will build their own models of the Saturn V. Programs are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6.

Is ours the only universe?
The notion of a parallel universe used to be strictly science fiction stuff. (I liked the Star Trek episode with the evil, bearded Spock!) Yet recent discoveries in physics and cosmology have led some scientists to conclude that our universe may be one among many. Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Town Hall Seattle physicist Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, explores different “multiverse” proposals: one parallel world in which you have an infinite number of doppelgängers, each reading this sentence in a distant universe; one that endlessly cycles through time; or one that might be hovering millimeters away—invisibly. The talk begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of Town Hall Seattle.

From hot gas to cold stars
The Engage! Science Speakers Series kicks off a new season Wednesday with a talk by University of Washington Ph.D. student Charlotte Christensen about how she uses computer simulations to model the formation of stars and planetary systems from free-floating molecular hydrogen. Christensen gave a similar presentation last year. The talk begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 in Room 075 of Johnson Hall on the UW Seattle campus.

The dark side of the universe
Weber State University astrophysicist Shane Larson will give a talk on dark matter at this month’s meeting of the Spokane Astronomical Society. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, in room 225 of building #24 at Spokane Falls Community College.