Charles Bolden, Jr. was born on August 19, 1946, in Columbia, South Carolina. The son of two educators, he graduated from C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia in 1964. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Science from the United States Naval Academy in 1968, and a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California in 1977.
Bolden was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Annapolis. He underwent flight training at Pensacola, Florida; Meridian, Mississippi; and Kingsville, Texas, before being designated a naval aviator in May 1970. He flew more than 100 combat sorties over North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in the A-6A Intruder, while assigned to VMA (AW)-533 at Nam Phong, Thailand from June 1972 to June 1973. Bolden then began a two-year tour as a Marine Corps officer selection and recruiting officer in Los Angeles, California, followed by three years at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, California. In June 1979, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, and was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates. While there, he served as an ordnance test pilot and flew numerous test projects in the A-6E, EA-6B, and A-7C/E airplanes. He has logged more than 5,000 hours flying time.
Charles Bolden became an astronaut in 1981. On his first of four space flights (all of which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida), he served as Pilot for STS-61C Columbia from January 12 to 18, 1986. The mission conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing and ended after 96 orbits of Earth, with a successful night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
From April 24 to 29, 1990 Bolden was Pilot on Discovery, STS-31 the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. Following 75 orbits of Earth in 121 hours, Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California. On March 24, 1992, Charles Bolden commanded STS-45 Atlantis, which was the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program. This was also the first spaceflight commanded by an African-American. Following 143 orbits of Earth, Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on April 2, 1992.
On April 28, 1992, Bolden was appointed Assistant Deputy Administrator, NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C. He entered space for the fourth time on STS-60 Discovery from February 3 to 11, 1994. Commanding a crew of six, he led this historic first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle mission that included a Russian cosmonaut (Sergei Krikalev) as a mission specialist crewmember. The flight carried the Space Habitation Module-2 (Spacehab-2), and the Wake Shield Facility-01. During the seven-day mission the crew conducted a series of joint U.S./Russian science activities. After 130 orbits, Discovery landed at KSC.
Charles Bolden has logged over 872 hours in space. He left NASA in 1994 and returned to active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps to become Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Bolden has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Strike/Flight Medal (8th award), Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of South Carolina (1984), Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Winthrop College (1986), the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (1992), NASA Exceptional Service Medals (1988, 1989, 1991), the University of Southern California Alumni Award of Merit (1989), and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Johnson C. Smith University (1990).
Charles Bolden retired from the Marine Corps in August 2004 with the rank of Major General.