Image: Bolden
Bill Ingalls / NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, speaks to scientists at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in Washington on Tuesday.
updated 1/7/2010 7:45:39 PM ET 2010-01-08T00:45:39

The United States must reach out to other countries to increase international cooperation in space, NASA chief Charles Bolden told an audience of astronomers this week.

It's not acceptable for the United States to come up with a space plan on its own, and then invite other countries to participate, Bolden said.

"We have got to make them true partners, which means they sit at the table when you plan," he said. "We have incredibly talented partners and we have to learn to trust them."

Bolden said creating a future with broader international partnership will enable better missions, because costs and expertise would be shared, and will also serve to improve America's reputation in the world, where images of U.S. soldiers marching through foreign lands are often the most salient association people have with America.

He spoke Tuesday at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, calling for "a relationship where our partners are treated as equals."

A former astronaut, Bolden was nominated as NASA administrator by President Barack Obama, and confirmed in July 2009 by the U.S. Senate. He is a veteran of four space shuttle flights, including the mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA's uncertain future
Bolden is currently presiding over an agency with an uncertain future. Obama is reviewing NASA's plans, which include building new spacecraft to carry humans to Earth orbit, back to the moon and beyond. But the president has not yet made a decision about whether to charge NASA with a new vision, or to carry on with its current tack.

"I don't know what the president's decision is going to be," Bolden said, though he was confident that President Obama would carry on a strong program of science and exploration. "I do not see this president being the president who presided over the end of human space exploration."

He said an increase in funding would be necessary to keep America's human space program strong, but he promised to put the interests of science in line with those of exploration.

"I can make this commitment to you: The future of human spaceflight will not be paid for out of the hide of the science budget," he said, to strong applause from the science-minded audience.

Education is key
Bolden also laid down a challenge to the listening astronomers to reach out to the public to communicate the excitement of science, and to work harder to educate the next generation.

"I need for you to get out and do things you're not accustomed to doing," he said. "We are going nowhere, nowhere, if we don't educate our kids."

He said too many scientists leave it to teachers to educate children about science, but too many teachers are afraid to teach science and math.

"We are leaving a generation behind," he lamented.

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