Former astronaut Charles F. Bolden Jr. will meet with President Obama in the Oval Office on Monday morning and likely will be nominated as the new NASA administrator, a senior administration official told NBC News on Thursday.
Bolden, a retired Marine general and the veteran of four spaceflights with more than 680 hours in Earth orbit, would be the first African-American chosen for NASA's top post.
Bolden was born in segregation in South Carolina but his grades earned him an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. There, Bolden was elected president of his class before earning his Naval Aviator wings and becoming one of America's outstanding fighter and test pilots as well as an astronaut.
The administration official discussed Bolden's likely nomination with NBC News on condition of anonymity because there was no official authorization to speak about it publicly. Obama's choice would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Bolden is a quiet man but not shy, and would be at the helm of the space agency for the retirement of its space shuttle fleet and the building of NASA's new Ares rockets and Orion spaceships.
If NASA's plan for next-generation spaceflight is given final approval following a study by a Presidential Review Board, Ares and Orion will be built to return America to the moon in little more than a decade — a time when Earth's companion solar body could be visited by Chinese astronauts as well.
Astronaut Charles Bolden made his first spaceflight as the pilot of the shuttle Columbia 23 years ago and went on to fly three more space missions, including the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and the first space shuttle flight to include a Russian crew member in 1994.
Florida's senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, flew in space with Bolden in 1986, just before the Challenger tragedy. "Charlie's credentials are top-notch," Nelson said. The man who just retired from NASA's top post, rocket scientist and aerospace engineer Michael Griffin, said Bolden would be "perfect" for the job.
Princeton physicist Gene McCall, a senior scientist and fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and retired chief scientist of the Air Force Space Command, said, "No one is more qualified to continue moving NASA out of its years of drifting than Charlie Bolden."
If Obama selects Bolden, he would be the first African-American picked to head the space agency. Another African-American, former shuttle commander Fred Gregory, became NASA's deputy administrator in 2002 when Sean O'Keefe held the agency's top post. Gregory briefly served as acting administrator in 2005, between O'Keefe's resignation and Griffin's Senate confirmation.
Griffin left NASA when Obama took office in January, and since then Associate Administrator Chris Scolese has served as NASA's interim chief.
This report includes information from NBC News' chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, and from NBC News space correspondent Jay Barbree in Cape Canaveral, Fla.