Charles F. "Charlie" Bolden, Jr., was born on 19 August 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina, and graduated from the US Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Science in 1968. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, he received his "Wings of Gold" in May 1970 as an A-6A Intruder pilot. From June 1972 to June 1973, he flew more than 100 combat missions into North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with Marine All Weather Attack Squadron 533. Following two years as a recruiting officer in Los Angeles and various assignments at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, Bolden graduated from the US Navy Test Pilot School in June 1979.
He spent the next year as an ordnance test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, flying numerous projects in the A-6E Intruder, EA-6B Prowler and A-7C/E Corsair II. Selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in May 1980, he qualified as a space shuttle pilot in August 1981, becoming the first black Marine astronaut. His first shuttle mission, STS-61C aboard Columbia from 12-18 January 1986, saw the successful deployment of the SATCOM KU-1 telecommunications satellite. As pilot of the Space Shuttle Discovery from 24-29 April 1990, Bolden and the STS-31 crew launched the Hubble Space Telescope while orbiting the Earth from a record-setting altitude of 400 miles. On his third shuttle mission, from 24 March to 2 April 1992, he commanded STS-45 aboard Atlantis, carrying the first Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS-1).
Following that mission, he served as assistant deputy administrator for NASA in Washington, DC, until taking command of STS-60 aboard Discovery in February 1994-the first flight of a Russian cosmonaut aboard an American spacecraft. He left the space program after the Discovery mission, having logged more than 680 hours in space during fourteen years with NASA. Upon returning to the Marine Corps, he served as deputy commandant of the US Naval Academy, deputy commanding general I Marine Expeditionary Force and deputy commander of US Forces Japan. Prior to his retirement from the Marine Corps in January 2003 as a major general, Bolden commanded the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. On 6 May 2006, Bolden was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for his achievements during his long astronaut career and for his continued support of the NASA space flight program. As of early 2007, he remains active on the board of several corporations, and is the chief executive officer of JACKandPANTHER, LLC, a defense aerospace and leadership consulting company. He and his wife Alexis (Jackie) reside in Houston, Texas, and have two children and three granddaughters.
As a young A-6A Intruder pilot in 1972-73, then-Captain Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions in Southeast Asia with the "Hawks" of VMA(AW)-533. He became the first black Marine to pilot and command the space shuttle, flying four missions aboard Columbia (1986), Discovery (1990 and 1994) and Atlantis (1992), and accumulating more than 680 hours in space. Throughout his career, he logged more than 7,000 flying hours in more than 30 different fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, ultimately reaching the rank of major general.