NASA chief speaks of King's influence

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. touched on everything from growing up in the segregated city of Columbia to orbiting the Earth as he gave an emotional speech to hundreds gathered for Tuesday's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Business and Professional Breakfast. 

"I am here today because of the life of Dr. King," Bolden said at the Gaillard Auditorium. "Dr. King had the same effect on many of us. Many of us never had the opportunity to meet him or to know him, but we would look at our lives and the things we want to do and say, 'I want to be like him. I want to make a difference in the world.' And he did."

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr., a native of Columbia, attracted many to the podium after giving the keynote address Tuesday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Business and Professional Breakfast at the Gaillard Auditorium. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley (second from right) introduced him.
Bolden noted he is the first black administrator of NASA serving under the nation's first black president, Barack Obama. 

"When I grew up, either of those things would have been unimaginable sitting inside the Carver Theatre in Columbia, the city's only theater for black people," he said.
He encouraged the students present to keep King's dream alive, to remain aware of their moral compass, and to study science and math.
Bolden talked about his memories of Charleston, which included his recent discovery -- during a large family reunion in Detroit -- that his mother's family could be traced to a 16-year-old female slave sold at auction in Charleston a few hundred years ago. 

"She had six sons, and those six sons were the beginning of my family," he said. "It's always great for me to come back to Charleston."
He also talked about his football team's sad and silent bus trip from Columbia to Charleston to play Burke High School for the state championship in November 1963. Just as the bus was leaving, Bolden and his teammates learned that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. 

"You could have heard a pin drop -- not a word was said," Bolden said to a crowd that also was silent.
Bolden called for a moment of silence for the six killed in this month's Arizona shootings that also injured a dozen others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose husband and brother-in-law both are astronauts. 

"I spoke with (her husband) Mark (Kelly) last week and his strength is a blessing in this terrible situation," Bolden said. "Our celebration of Dr. King's life must acknowledge how much work there is still to do around the nation and around our world."
Bolden told students that his decision to attend the U.S. Naval Academy wasn't fully thought out by him.
"It was a school I had wanted to go to ever since I was a seventh-grader," he said. "I had no idea of what I was getting myself into. ... I wanted to go because I wanted to wear the uniform. That's how little I thought about what I was going to do."

He said the experience was a tough one, "but that's good. Life is tough. ... If you ever find yourself getting ready to do a presentation and you're not nervous, get worried. Life is supposed to be hard, and you're supposed to make hard choices."
He said he never set out to join the Marines or fly airplanes, though he ultimately did. Instead, he had planned to leave the military, go back to school for a master's degree in electrical engineering and find a lucrative job. 

"If I were to grade myself on the achievement of my goals coming out of high school, I would get an F," he said.
He said he might never have applied to be an astronaut if it weren't for a conversation he had with Ron McNair, a black astronaut who grew up in Lake City, about 42 miles away from Bolden's home. McNair died in 1986 aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

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