NASA's Charlie Bolden Gets Verklempt

Charlie Bolden likes to talk -- and he's also prone to choking up.

Making his first major staff appearance as NASA administrator, Bolden spoke before agency employees Tuesday at Washington headquarters along with his deputy, Lori Garver. Over the course of 35 minutes of remarks -- which he admitted should have lasted for about five -- Bolden's voice broke and tears welled up at least five times.

Charles Bolden
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr.

Describing his visit on Monday to the White House with Apollo 11 astronauts, he said that Neil Armstrong "represented us so well," then stopped as his voice cracked for the fourth time.

"I cry because my dad cried," he explained. "He taught me how to cry. He was my high school football coach. He expressed to me, and everyone else he coached, to have something you're passionate about." NASA became his passion, he said, even though he admitted, "I never dreamed of being an astronaut. I definitely didn't dream of being administrator."

He also choked up when describing his views on the environment and what the Middle East looked like from Space.

Moving into a more formal tone, Bolden blasted critics of the space agency who have suggested in recent months that the lack of an administrator signaled President Obama's unwillingness to commit to future space exploration.

"I was insulted to hear people who we thought knew better say, 'Well, there's no one to talk to at NASA'" because it lacked a permanent administrator, he said, adding later "we don't need one" because rank-and-file career employees have carried the agency in recent months.

After months of delay in selecting a new administrator, President Obama nominated the Naval Academy graduate and retired Marine Corps major general earlier this year for the top space job. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- whose state is home to thousands of NASA employees -- lobbied hard for the nomination since Bolden piloted the shuttle that Nelson traveled on in 1986. His nomination all but assured, Bolden bused dozens of extended family members from his native South Carolina to pack the seats at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.

Bolden, 62, told the AP on Tuesday that he will be "incredibly disappointed" if people do not make it to Mars -- or beyond -- in his lifetime. His comments appeared to signal a shift in space policy that currently plans to get humans back to the moon by 2020 and then to the red planet or beyond.

During Tuesday's meeting, the new administrator also encouraged employees to reach out to reporters and bloggers or to use Twitter to spread bad news or concerns about agency policy.

“But share them with me and Lori and your supervisor too," he said. (Share news tips or concerns in the comments section below, or e-mail them to The Eye here.)

He also urged frustrated employees to consider moving on.

"If you don't wake up wanting to come to work everyday and you don't feel proud about what you do... go in and talk to your boss," he said.

"I can promise you we're going to help you with the transition. Even if you think we can't survive without you, we can."

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