In 1981 Major General Bolden became the first African American Marine to serve as a Space Shuttle pilot and commander for NASA. Born in South Carolina in 1946, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. Designated a naval aviator in May 1970, he flew more than 100 combat missions in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in the Grumman A-6 Intruder, while assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 533 at Nam Phong, Thailand, from June 1972 to June 1973. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1980, qualifying as a Space Shuttle pilot in 1981, and subsequently flying four missions on the Space Transportation System (STS): STS-61C, STS-31, STS-45, and STS-60. During his first mission on board the Space Shuttle Columbia--STS-61C, 12-18 January 1986, he participated in the successful deployment of the SATCOM KU Satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing.
As pilot of the Space Shuttle Discovery --STS-31, 24-29 April 1990, General Bolden and crew successfully deployed the Hubble Space Telescope while orbiting the earth from a record setting altitude of 400 miles. Additionally, the crew conducted extensive scientific experiments and employed a variety of cameras for Earth observations. On his third Shuttle mission, 24 March-2 April 1992, Bolden commanded STS-45 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, a mission dedicated to NASA's "Mission to Planet Earth", and the first Space Laboratory mission. During this nine-day mission, the crew operated the ATLAS-1; a system composed of 13 experiments designed to record detailed measurements of the Earth's atmospheric chemical and physical properties. Immediately following this mission, he was appointed Assistant Deputy Administrator for NASA, Washington, DC.
He held this post until assigned as commander of STS-60, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, 3-11 February 1994. This landmark eight-day mission was the first joint U.S.-Russian Space Shuttle mission involving the participation of a Russian cosmonaut as a mission specialist. Bolden left the space program after this mission, having logged more than 680 hours in space. In addition to his 4 space flights during 14 years with NASA, he also served as the Special Assistant to the Director of the Johnson Space Center, and the Astronaut Office Liaison to the Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance Directorates of both the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center. General Bolden currently serves as the Commanding General, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, California, and is married to the former Alexis (Jackie) Walker of Columbia, South Carolina.
Major General Bolden is the first African American Marine to serve as a NASA Space Shuttle pilot and commander. He successfully completed four missions, flying aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (1986), Space Shuttle Discovery (1990), Space Shuttle Atlantis (1992) and Space Shuttle Discovery (1994). He left the space program having logged more than 680 hours in space. Throughout his career, he has logged more than 6,000 flying hours in over 30 different fixed and rotary wing aircraft.