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Obama picks ex-astronaut Bolden to lead NASA


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Obama Picks Ex-Astronaut Bolden to Lead NASA

WASHINGTON/CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will name former space shuttle commander Charles Bolden to lead NASA, the White House said on Saturday, in the midst of a major shift in the U.S. human space program.

Bolden, 62, a retired Marine general, flew on four shuttle missions before leaving the U.S. space agency in 1994 to return to the military.

Bolden, who would become the 12th administrator in NASA's 51-year history and its first black head, is seen as a strong advocate for human space flight.

"I think it's good news and good for the agency," said Frank Siezten, a Washington-based space consultant.

"All things being equal, he'll come down on the side of the current architecture. He's got an investment in the current system but he knows enough to ask the hard questions. You're not going to be able to roll Charlie Bolden."

Obama also intends to name Lori Garver, a space consultant who oversaw space-related issues for his transition team, as NASA's deputy administrator, the White House said.

"These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America's space program," Obama said in a statement.

Following the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, NASA and the Bush administration backed a recommendation by the accident investigators to retire the rest of the shuttles in 2010 after completion of the International Space Station. NASA has eight missions left to fly.

The fleet's retirement will leave the United States without the ability to reach the space station until a new vehicle is ready to fly in about 2015. Russian Soyuz capsules will be used in the interim for trips to the space station.

Controversy about how to bridge the gap and the planned design for the new vehicles spurred Obama to appoint an independent panel, headed by former Lockheed Martin chairman Norm Augustine, to review the U.S. human space flight program.

The report is due in August.

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