Former NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden gave an open lecture about human space exploration. Bolden, the first permanent African American administrator at NASA, discussed both his experience at the agency and the future of space travel and research.

“I’m a little intimidated to uphold the legacy of previous speakers,” said Bolden as he began his presentation. The 12th NASA administrator then kicked off by discussing the possibility of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe, a question which, according to Bolden, concerns us all. 

Although the cutting edge of space exploration was the talk’s central topic, Bolden’s discussion of the power of space travel and science to inspire and unite people across the world also resonated with the audience.

He recalled images of people across the world watching the Apollo 11 moon landing and told stories of Soviet scientists congratulating their American counterparts in official state journals. Bolden also suggested that the 2012 Curiosity Rover landing on Mars had a similar impact on the world. He spoke in glowing terms about the International Space Station, suggesting that the project should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

Afterwards, he elaborated on NASA’s direction for the next half century. He discussed President Obama’s plan for humanity to “advance into the solar system - this time to stay.” According to him, the plan is to reach Mars by 2030 by working with “more nontraditional partners around the world,” including commercial companies. He touted the agency’s financial stability as well as the upcoming launch of the James Webb Telescope, slated for 2019. 

Finally, he offered his take on the future of the world, claiming to be optimistic humanity’s future. He cited technological improvements, such as advancements in aviation, which will allow for much faster travel. Bolden is confident of the world’s ability to handle climate change and pollution, mentioning current advances in water purification and “green” aviation. 

A graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School, Bolden was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1980 and first flew in 1986. He has spent over 680 hours in space, and is a veteran of four space missions. After his career as astronaut, he was nominated by Obama as the 12th administrator of NASA in 2009. He resigned on January 19, 2017 as per precedent. 

The lecture, entitled “Humanity’s Exploration: A Conversation with Charlie Bolden,” was a part of the Gilbert Lecture Series. It took place in the Lewis Auditorium at Robertson Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m.

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