Soldier, astronaut. Bolden was born in Columbia on August 19, 1946, the son of Charles Bolden, a high school teacher and football coach, and Ethel M. Bolden, a high school librarian. He graduated from C. A. Johnson High School in 1964. He received a B.S. degree in electrical science from the United States Naval Academy (1968) and an M.S. in systems management from the University of Southern California (1977). Bolden married Alexis “Jackie” Walker of Columbia on June 8, 1968. They have two children.
Bolden became a naval aviator in 1970 and flew more than one hundred combat missions from 1972 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. In 1979 Bolden graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. The following year he was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for training, and he became an astronaut in August 1981. Bolden is a veteran of four space flights. In January 1986 he served as part of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, which deployed the SATCOM KU satellite, and performed experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. Four years later, in April 1990, Bolden piloted the space shuttle Discovery, whose crew deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.
In March 1992 Bolden commanded the space shuttle Atlantis. Among its other accomplishments, the crew operated the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science Cargo (ATLAS-1), a series of experiments that measured the physical and chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Following his third space mission, Bolden was selected to serve as the assistant deputy administrator of NASA at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. He returned to the space shuttle program two years later in February 1994 as commander of the first joint U.S.-Russian space shuttle mission on his second flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The mission carried the Space Habitation Module-2 and the Wake Shield Facility-01 and conducted joint U.S.-Russian scientific experiments. On completion of his fourth shuttle mission, Bolden had logged more than 680 hours in space.
Bolden left NASA in 1994 to return to operational duty in the U.S. Marine Corps as deputy commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He subsequently served in a variety of command positions. He served as deputy commander, U.S. Forces, Japan, from 1998 to 2000. In August 2000 he was named commanding general of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. Bolden has received military and NASA decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, and holds honorary doctorates from several institutions, including the University of South Carolina and Winthrop University.