On Tuesday afternoon, around 300 members of the Yale community clogged the doorways and covered the floor of an auditorium in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear from Charles Bolden, the current administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
In his talk, which was hosted by The Politic and moderated by Justin Schuster ’15, Bolden discussed his entrance into the “astronaut world.” When he was growing up in segregated South Carolina, he said, he did not have any role models who were astronauts, and it wasn’t until soon after he flew planes in the Vietnam War in the 70’s that he decided he wanted to work for NASA.
After serving in the Marine Corps, Bolden joined NASA in 1980. Bolden went to outer space four times over the course of his career, serving as commander on two of the missions. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006 and was nominated to the position of NASA administrator by President Barack Obama in 2009.
In the second half of his talk, Bolden responded to questions about federal funding for NASA, noting that less than one percent of the federal budget is currently allocated to NASA. His job entails convincing American politicians and citizens that NASA is doing worthwhile work for the country, he said. For instance, in 1990 the Hubble telescope completely altered the way in which the universe is viewed, he said.
Bolden also discussed how NASA, and space travel at large, is advancing quickly, with the possibility of longer and more thorough missions. In the coming years, space travel to Mars may take only half the time it currently does, he said.
But most importantly, Bolden said, he considers the collaborative spirit of space research a paragon of the kind of cooperation that can and should happen on Earth, calling the International Space Station “the United Nations in orbit.”
“How we continue to work collaboratively and make scientific discoveries speaks loads to what we can do on Earth,” Bolden said. “What is being done 250 miles above is done by people who don’t always agree on things on Earth.”
International collaboration is particularly essential to success in outer space, Bolden said, adding that the United States alone will not be able to put a crew on Mars without the brainpower of other nations.
Throughout his talk, Bolden emphasized the importance of exploring other planets, in particular Mars, through NASA initiatives.
“We all came from the same place. So if we can see what happened to these planets, we can find things not to do so we don’t end up like them,” Bolden said.
Student feedback on the talk was overwhelmingly positive.
Madison Stenzel ’18 said she was most impressed by the inspirational value of Bolden’s personal story. In particular, she was struck by how Bolden was able to become so successful in his field even though his career did not seem like an attainable possibility when he was growing up.
Ashesh Trivedi ’18 said he appreciated how Bolden tried to make outer space a topical subject for the audience members.
“I thought [the talk] would be a lot more administrative because I had no idea about his background, but he’s more of the idea that NASA needs to be appealing to everyone and science is for everyone,” Trivedi said. “Space is now.”
Genevieve Silva ’17 said she was most interested by the new advances in space technology that NASA is developing.
But it was Bolden’s “charismatic” personality that made the talk so enjoyable, according to Gerrardo Carranza ’17, who also said he appreciated the broad scope of the discussion.
Bolden’s talk marked the kick-off event of The Politic’s speaker series, which will feature a different speaker each week throughout this semester.