Episode #4 - Charles Bolden - Space, Cybersecurity and Tech


In Gula Tech Cyber Fiction episode four, I spent an exciting hour speaking with former Marine pilot, shuttle astronaut and head of NASA - retried Major General (USMC) Charles Bolden. We spoke about a variety of issues including:

  • How we can encourage more minorities to enter the tech field
  • Why STEM needs to include "art" and "design" becoming STEM+AD
  • How we can handle disinformation from NASA's deal with moon landing deniers
  • Cybersecurity of NASA, reliability of computers & software
  • The commercialization and weaponization of space

Charlie Bolden is part of the
Bolden Group and leads it with his son Che Bolden and daughter Kelly Bolden. The Bolden Group was founded in 2017 and has a mission to provide singular and trustworthy expertise to cultivate and transform leadership in the areas of Space/Aerospace Exploration; National Security; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math + Arts and Design (STEM+AD) Education, and Health Initiatives.


Ron Gula: [00:00:00] Hi there. Welcome to the Gula Tech Cyber Fiction show today. Our guest is astronaut former head of NASA and national defense expert in space expert. Extraordinary. Mr. Charles Bolden, Charlie, how's it going? Oh,
Charles Bolden: [00:00:18] it's going very well, Ron. I'm impressed with your intro. I'm not sure. I can live up to all that, but it's a pleasure to be with you.
Ron Gula: [00:00:25] Awesome. Hey, thanks for joining us today. And we are gonna talk about cybersecurity. We are going to talk about computers, but. We're going to talk about space a lot too, and how they're related. So without further ado, most of our listeners and show Watchers are from the cyber community.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you became an astronaut and how you ended up running NASA?
Charles Bolden: [00:00:47] Yeah. Boy, I'll tell ya it could be a long story, but I'll try to make it really short. I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, back in the days of Jim Crow and had no clue whatsoever. No, no motivation to, to become a part of the space program.
Although I grew up in the fifties and sixties space was being talked about even back then. And then I, I. The one thing I knew I wanted to do as a kid from seventh grade on from 12th grade on was I knew that the school I wanted to go to was the United States Naval Academy. I had seen a program on television called men of Annapolis that talked about life at the Naval Academy.
And I was blown away. I loved the the nice high colors and the formal uniforms. And then as a as a 12 year old about to enter puberty I was also really motivated by all the beautiful young ladies who came to the campus. So that's where I wanted to go to school. And I found out that you had to get an appointment from either one of your us senators or your congressional representative, or in my case, the Vice President of United States.
And so I started applying when I got into ninth grade and every year I would get responses from my senators and my representative that there was no way they were going to consider sending a black to the Naval Academy or any other Academy from South Carolina. So my number one hope became the vice-president who at the time was vice President, Lyndon Johnson.
And he would send a letter back and said, Hey, really appreciate your interest. It's a little early, write me back when you were a senior. Write me back when you were a senior. And I would always say, I just want you to know who I am. I'm getting up to senior year. President Kennedy was assassinated.
President vice president Johnson became the president of the United States. And my hope of going to the Naval Academy, went out the window for all intents and purposes. So I took one last shot at it, and I wrote a letter to the president and said, I know I'm not eligible for an appointment from you, but I really need help.
I've been talking to you for a number of years. I really want to go to the Naval Academy, never heard from him, but within weeks I got a visit from a Navy recruiter. Several weeks later, president Johnson sent a retired federal judge around the country, looking for qualified young men of color to go to the Naval Academy and others.
And there were no women at the time. And I ended up getting an appointment from Congressman William Dawson of Chicago, Illinois. I left Columbia knowing that there were two things I would never do. I was not going to be a Marine and I was not going to fly airplanes. Flying airplanes was inherently dangerous.
Marines were a little questionable in the GQ area there. But as fate would have it, my very first company officer, the adult overseeing my 150 or so member company was a young Marine officer, an infantry officer by the name of John Raleigh. Love who made. , an impact on me that carried me the rest of my life.
And so when it was time to graduate, I decided contrary to what I said, I'm going to be a Marine. I'm going to be like him. And so I. Went to the Marine Corps, basic training for officers, the basic school for six months with the intent of becoming an infantry officer found, I didn't like crawling around in the mud and my wife constantly telling me why don't we go to Pensacola because I'm not excited about you going to Vietnam as an infantry officer.
And I finally gave in and we went to Pensacola. First time I got in an airplane, I fell in love with it. And in spite of my thinking, I didn't want to fly. I became an avid aviator and as time would have it progressed through, went to test pilot school became a test pilot, and it was there that I had an opportunity to meet another person who would change my life forever.
And that was the late great Dr. Ron McNair, who was selected in 1978 in the very first group of space, shuttle astronauts. And that meant. He was a young black man from co from actually from Lake city, South Carolina, very small city in South Carolina, about 42 miles from where I had grown up. And I was mesmerized by him, but still had no interest in the space program.
But before he got in his sleep, NASA, T 38 to go back to Houston, he said, Hey, are you going to apply for the space program? I said, not on your life. And he looked at me, he said, that's the Creek. He said, why not? I said, they'd never picked me. And he looked at me again. He said, that is the craziest thing I ever heard.
How do you know if you don't try and made me feel really small because my mom and dad had always told my brother and me that we could do anything we wanted to. When he left, I picked up my pen and paper and I wrote my application and ended up being interviewed and then selected in the second group of spatial or so that's how I fell into the space program.
Flew four times on the space shuttle to space left the program after 14 years when our daughter, our baby graduated from high school and went back and spent nine more years. With the operational forces of the Marine Corps, retiring as a major general in 2003 after commanding the third Marine aircraft wing and moving back to Houston and we stayed there, I was happy doing some occasional consulting when I got a call from the Obama administration, asking if I would be willing to come up and talk to the president science advisor, Dr.
John Holden talk to him for about half a day and then went back home. And several weeks later, got a call saying, Hey, would you come back and talk to president Obama? My wife said, don't go. Because he's going to ask you to do something. And and you don't know how to say no. And so I said, no, trust me, I just want to meet him.
And I'll say no to anything. And I came back and over a couple of days, I had about a 25 minute meeting with him. And I came away just mesmerized and really impressed. And several weeks later got a call saying he had decided he wanted to nominate me to be the NASA administrator. So I went through the Senate confirmation process.
And in July of 2011, 20 in back in July of 2009, seven months into his first term, I was confirmed to be the NASA administrator. So that's a long answer to your short question.
Ron Gula: [00:06:25] It's really at a, an amazing question or an amazing answer even more of a a basic question. It's black history month.
Yeah. Everything that you've done, you were highly selected for, going to the Naval Academy, going to test pilot school, go to becoming an astronaut in cyber security, we're trying hard to bring more African-Americans to this career field. So what can you say about persistence and being qualified and not, maybe not seeing people who are African-American in that field and having, still wanting to serve, still wanting to get involved.
What can you say to our viewers?
Charles Bolden: [00:06:57] I'll give an example of one of my classmates at the Naval Academy, there were four blacks who with whom three others with whom I graduated. And one of them was was Frank Simmons. Frank came from, I always get it wrong outside of Birmingham, Alabama.
I think he was from Bessemer, but it's not important. And Frank had enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school, became an electronics technician. And and then applied and was accepted and went through the Navy's prep school and then came to the Naval Academy and took every single course.
There wasn't Russian that was offered by the Naval Academy. And when we graduated, he went to flight school, but half-hearted he went in and dropped out and the Navy wanted to punish him. So they sent him back to what was called the Gator Navy to amphibs in Norfolk, Virginia, where. He got a call from the Naval security group saying, Hey, do you want to come home?
And he went back to the Naval security group and spent his entire career as a Russian analyst on airplanes ships, you name it. But I said all that to say, one thing that's really important is to prepare yourself. This is for the young black or Hispanic or any kids from a, an underserved community.
People really are looking for us, but we have to be prepared. So my lesson or my message would be to the blacks that you're seeking study really hard work, incredibly hard, never ever be afraid of failure and stand ready when somebody knocks at the door don't always wait for somebody to knock, every once in a while, go out and seek out things you want.
So I would say for the cyber community, people like you fish in places that you're not accustomed to fishing. Everybody likes to, I'm not a fisherman, but my friends always tell me they know where to go because they know where the fish are, which means they go to the same old place all the time and they catch the same kind of fish all the time.
If you continue to go to MIT and university of Michigan and Stanford and every other place you're going to go where there is a limited number of minorities or underserved communities, because it's really hard. To get into those places in the first place. And they don't fish in all the right places there they're beginning to get good, but go to historically black colleges and universities go to technical schools.
I come from South Carolina, they have an extensive program that started out the first one was called Midlands tech, and they now have an extensive program of technical colleges that are two year colleges that prepare people for the kind of stuff you're talking about to be computer programmers. People that are into the cyber field.
So I would say expand the waters in which you fish. If you really are serious about increasing the minority representation in the cyber community. There are tons of people out there.
Ron Gula: [00:09:38] Yeah, that's very well said. And I hope our viewers are going to use that kind of messaging to be purposeful about recruiting more to our fields.
It's so important. So w when you were running NASA what were some of your biggest achievements that you're proud of the team there, and then also, how much it, how much cybersecurity, actually bubbles up to, to, to your level.
Charles Bolden: [00:10:00] Interesting. You asked the question. I. I never get asked about failure.
You didn't ask me about failure, but I'm going to tell you about failure because you asked about it. Two things of which I am most proud. I won't say they're the things that bring me the most pride. But two things about which I am very proud. One is when I did my confirmation hearing, I'm not sure how many people in your audience are familiar with the process, but you go meet with congressmen and mainly the senators particularly the ones that are going to be on the oversight committees.
And so I felt I was pretty prepared for my hearing. You go in and you sit at this table in front of the chairman and the rest of the committee. And the chairman of my committee was Senator Rockefeller from West Virginia. Everybody had expected that Senator bill Nelson, who was the chairman of the subcommittee would actually be allowed to cheer since we were old friends and crew mates from the shuttle program, when he was a Congressman.
But I got into the room and sure enough, there was chairman Rockefeller in the chair and I was there with my deputy nominee Lori Garver. And the chairman began his opening remarks, which is traditional. And he just laid into me. I had met chairman Rockefeller wants, I think, very brief conversation and he just began to just chew me out for NASA, his inability to pass.
An audit and about our just horrible fiscal record and everything else. And I was taken aback. I was not prepared for this line of questioning because nobody thought he would ever go there. And so after he finished chewing me out, I asked him if I could make my opening statement and I did, and I had a very good hearing and I ended up being unanimously approved out of committee and then unanimously approved again by voice vote on the floor of the Senate that night.
But my very first day in office, I called him the chief financial officer. And I said, Hey, talk to me about this audit stuff. What is it that the chairman was talking about since nobody briefed me? And he said we get audited every year and we just, we're just struggling to pass it. It's not like you're like, you're gonna go to a bad school or something but we just aren't able to do that, but we think we're really close.
We've been working on this for years and we think we're almost ready and we're going to pass an audit. And sure enough, my first year as the NASA administrator, we got a first, our first audit with no opinion, which I'm in the audit world. That's good. And so that was thing. Number one second thing was.
We got a there were two tests that were given each year one by GAO and the other one was out of one of the security apparatuses in the government. And we flunked both NASA failed, both cyber test in in, in inspections. I had no idea that was something that, that we were encountering.
And so I was fortunate enough to be able to hire in a new chief information officer from the EPA Renee, when Renee came in and tutored me on what these tests were and why it was really important to pass them. And the fact that we had people on the international space station who were counting on us to really protect them from.
From a cyber intruders. We really, there was no conversation about it up until then. Because everybody was under this misconception that because we were out in space, there was 250 miles of gap. And so nobody could get us and the old country or Pierre, as Renee said, everybody can get to us.
The critical part about NASA was because we interact with the department of defense, every other agency of the federal government and all our international partners. We had all of these portals. Through which data was coming. Every single source of input was also or output for us, sending data to all of our customers was a source of input where people could come in the back door get into NASA system and subsequently get into our national security system.
So we realized right away that if we weren't tight, cyber tight, Then the rest of the country and in our security organizations who we serve probably weren't as cyber tight as they needed to be. So two examples of the critical importance of cybersecurity that I didn't even know about when I became the NASA administrator.
Ron Gula: [00:14:20] So with the centers for disease control, it is in charge of the health of the nation. And when you look at DHS, so you look at the NSA and cyber command, they don't necessarily defend everybody in the nation when it comes to cybersecurity. But for federal agencies, such as NASA, they are involved.
Any thoughts on the role of, how much responsibility should be given to somebody like a DHS CYSA organization or should the responsibility, be more inside NASA to defend NASA? Like how what's that. Partnership look like now they're a critical part. Since we're talking about cyber they're critical partnerships for us.
Charles Bolden: [00:14:59] One is with the FBI. One is with CYSA and DHS. The other one is actually with it's the DOD. Security apparatus and all of them have cyber centers or control centers around the country. Today we don't have a representative, a NASA representative who sits in each, but we have people out of our chief information officers.
Organization that is a liaison say to, to assist or a liaison to NRO or a liaison to anybody else because they set the standards. I talked about the two tests that we fly. Those are over overarching standards for cybersecurity and and we go to them. All the time for asking if, do you see any signs that we're trying to be poked or probed?
Because we know that if they're coming at us, they're not coming because they want something from NASA, because almost everything we do is in the public domain. They're coming because they're looking for holes again, like I talked about. Where they can come in the back door and then get to our national security apparatus.
So we are in constant contact with them. They will come to us sometimes and say, Hey, we're seeing an extensive amount of probing from this particular source. We suggest you do this to shore things up. So we're in constant contact with the people who set the cyber standards for the government.
Ron Gula: [00:16:21] Excellent. So we'll come back to that. Yeah. Let me ask you about just how you look at reliability, right? You're up in space. You have comms, you have connectivity, or there can be physical failures. It can be software failures. How do you look at complexity? And in terms of resilience in terms of security what's after running NASA and being a pet what's your advice for understanding that those kinds of risks?
Charles Bolden: [00:16:46] What I love about your questions is you're making me admit how ignorant I was when I became the NASA administrator. And that's always fun. But it's, like I said, when I came in things about audits, things about cyber, all that stuff. I thought I knew what I thought I knew it and I thought I was familiar with it.
And I found that I didn't have a clue. So over time, what I found was we even got to the point, one of the big strengths of bringing in a strong chief information officer and giving her I guess the right word is Responsibility for our fight for our fiscal planning, if you will, for cybersecurity.
So it meant that rather than allowing all of our NASA centers to go off and do their own thing in terms of cyber and information systems, everything came to the chief information officer at headquarters for approval, or she made recommendations. To the fleet, if you will, about steps that we should take equipment, we should buy equipment.
We should not buy. And for the first time we actually began to look at at our supply chain with almost everything we were getting at the time, some having an origin, somewhere off shore chips. Complete it, you name it, components that go into computers and and cryptographic material.
And the if we didn't know. The ultimate source of that material, there was always a chance that somebody would put something in at the very beginning of the supply chain. It would go through completely undetected and unlooked at or anything. And then the next thing you know, we've got. These systems onboard the international space station, for example, that are just a complete open pipeline to somebody who wants to do us harm.
Those are some of the kinds of things that we began to look at. And I've been gone now from NASA for more than four years, but my guess is that they have even, they've strengthened it way beyond where we were at the end of the Obama administration.
Ron Gula: [00:18:47] Yeah. Supply chain is very important. I think the COVID.
At the DEMEC has understood, has made the population understand is how connected we are and how dependent we are. Do you think that any of the NASA suppliers. Are also supplying the U S economy. In other words, do you think a strong supply chain from NASA and the DOD is just going to make the nation more secure as a whole.
Charles Bolden: [00:19:10] You hit on, you hit the nail on the head. When you said, do we supply the nation's economy? NASA is budget of whatever it is. I think today it's it's somewhere between 20 and $25 billion, 85% of that goes right through NASA. It's a pass through for all intents and purposes, and it goes into the American economy.
So it's going to companies, little companies like I don't know if you have a company that deals in cyber security that has a contract with NASA. It's going to you. It's going to IBM. It's going to Boeing. It's going to. Axiom, small companies, small and large around the country. So as NASA goes, so goes our portion of the U S economy.
So it's it's really important that and we are strengthening our relationship with the private sector. People think, have always thought that NASA builds rockets. We have never built a rocket even back in the days of mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. It was Rockwell. Or, nowadays it's Boeing and Lockheed but it has always been a private sector, American industry.
That's built our rockets. That's the same today. Space X is incredibly well-known because they've really broken the mold in terms of a lot of their, even they have supply chain issues that concern us. But one of the things about them is that they have vertical. Integration. I hate that term because it doesn't mean anything to most people who are listening, but they do everything in house for the most part.
But they don't make their own chips. They don't make their own computer parts. And in some cases they purchase computers and it equipment off the shelf. So there we have to work with them to help them understand that. I know you think, you know what you're doing and you're confident, but we have some additional standards that we'd like for you to take a look at.
If I can bore you for just a little while longer, when we decided we were going to move, we were really going to put emphasis on the commercial space system, commercial acquisition under the Obama administration. One of the things that we learned, we knew it, I think was that we had this mentality at NASA that the not invented here, mentality.
If it didn't come from NASA, it was no good. We had NASA standards for this NASA regulations for this NASA requirements for that. But we were counseled by our commercial partners that, Hey, if you really are serious about getting us involved, We have some standards with which we complied. I Tripoli other kinds, they are much more critical, much more demanding than the NASA standards.
Did you have many of which are leftover from the Apollo era? So can we. Take a time out and sit at the table for a period of time and look at all the NASA standards, bring in the standards that we think are the equivalent or better, and and set those up as what we're going to use. And that's exactly what we did.
It took us two years of just down in the dirt work with our prospective commercial partners to re review and revise NASA requirements and standards such that nowadays, if you go to an engineering spec, Some of them are going to be according to NASA in S P XXX, you have to do this, but it may be NASA NXP, XXX, or equivalent, which will be something from the a commercial governing organization.
If you will, to that establishes even stronger standards. Not sure if that's what you were poking at.
Ron Gula: [00:22:54] I think that's fair, very interesting, because I think in many ways, the U S government, it gets criticized for, overspending and having complex compliance requirements. But the reality is whether it comes to cryptography or secure system design.
NIST and all the different government agencies have done a really good job with that. And the commercial sector typically, typically follows. So I think that's a that's well said. One of the things I wanted to ask you about though is when you look at, flying people in space, communicating and keeping them safe, doing good mission, it's, purpose-built designed engineering, you've got amazing engineers at NASA, major contractors supporting you and it's purpose built.
And, you have things like, I've heard there's five computers on the space shuttle that kind of vote, right? Is that a true truth?
Charles Bolden: [00:23:39] That's right. They, we had a system of five computers and four of them talk to each other all the time. They were the primary flight control software on it.
And then we had a fifth backup computer that was actually called the backup computer and it had the backup flight software system. So it was. That system was compiled and built by a separate company tested by itself, but then brought in with the other four to make the complete five computer set so that they were compatible with each other, such that if for some reason we began to feel that there was a generic.
Error or generic problem with the four primary computers, we could shut them down. And the single string backup computer system would be able to operate shuttle get it back home safely on the ground or get it to space. And actually you could you could do some minimal things. It was not built to operate on orbit.
It was an emergency when you had to. Rely on the backup computer. So it didn't have what we call on orbit software in it. It was mainly asset and entry. So we could get you into space and we could get you back home safely, but it wasn't built to, to allow you to do standard payload operations and the light.
Today's systems don't have five computers, but they do, they are redundant. I'm not to be quite honest on the international space station. I'm not sure how many separate systems they have, but they do that. They're always looking at each other in micro millisecond increments and comparing notes.
And if one of them thinks the other one's out they'll kick it out until you can find out what the Euro was and then go fix it and bring it back into the system.
Ron Gula: [00:25:18] And I think the tie in was cybersecurity I'm looking for is right now, it's really in Vogue to have a hygiene and then hunt for hackers.
Like we've really gotten away from. Purpose builds security engineering security design, because we're trying to general market, everything. And, we complain when our bios or our Comcast goes down in a snow storm because it's up 99 point, five times nine, but the reality is, the internet and the products that we're using today are not nearly designed to a level of standard that, NASA needs to run their operations.
Charles Bolden: [00:25:53] That's what Nancy used to say all the time. And and what we started doing when we turned to commercial entities to help us was okay. If we're talking about human space flight, if we're talking about the safety of humans, there is a really high bar that's gotta be met particularly in terms of.
Software design and engineering and integration into the system and safety of the software. Although it's important for a satellite, a communication satellite or a, an earth observing satellite. We probably don't need to put the money into making that one as robust as we do for human space flight.
I hate the term. Failure is not an option but when you talk about human space flight, you'd like to think that failure is not acceptable for us, if it means the death of a crew or injury of a crew. So the standards for that even in cybersecurity are much higher than they are for a standard kind of flight.
So there are different levels of compliance that we have to meet depending on what we're doing. I think that's
Ron Gula: [00:27:02] well said. What I'd like to do is change topic a little bit to to disinformation. So when you were named NASA administrator, what space flight center house, the Apollo fake moon landing TV
Charles Bolden: [00:27:14] section got all kinds of questions about that, to be quite honest disinformation is a term that wasn't used when I was the NASA.
And when I was the NASA administrator, the term, although it's always been around and disinformation itself has been with us since prehistoric times, I think. But it's now a source of increased attention because everybody realizes how How impactful it is, how powerful disinformation is. And I like to tell people a term I hate is fake news.
There is no such thing. And I just want to make sure your audience understands. There is no such thing as fake news. It's either good news or it's bad news.
Ron Gula: [00:27:56] And if it's not true,
Charles Bolden: [00:27:58] it's not news. I would plead with your audience, don't fall for the fake news stuff. It's either good or it's bad.
It either helps me, or it hurts me. If it's not true, it's not true. There is no alternative truth. There are no alternative facts. There are opinions. And one of the things that NASA and I'll talk about NASA, one of the things that NASA and I did when I was in the Marine Corps, I am always in, in a worldwide search for alternative ideas.
I really want a diversity of thought. So this is black history month. I like to refer to it as American history month because it's the month in which America gets to learn about a significant part of. Of our history and what made us, who we are that you wouldn't ordinarily here outside of the month of February, that's unfortunate but that's just the way it is.
So this is American history month where you get to learn a little bit about what your black brothers and sisters did to get us all to where we are today. But disinformation is either people contorting. The news to be not true or it's people, contorting facts such that it, it satisfies their need to incite people, to do things that they would not ordinarily do if they were clear thinking and actually searching for truth.
Didn't have a problem with disinformation then as much as we do now, I did get the question now. And the antibiotic is the earth round. Where what's in Roswell at area 51. And did we really land on the moon? Those things will never go away. My, my mother, who is looking down on us from heaven now, even when I flew my first space shuttle mission, my mother was a a library at a high school library.
And then she had a master's degree in library science. Even she had questions about whether or not I'd really done what I did and I would have to tell her, I said, mama, you were at the Kennedy space center. You were there watching, I had talked to you that morning on the phone and you heard my voice from the spacecraft.
You saw it lift off, you saw it come back and land and you saw me get out. Act like a, like an adult and a person with a master's in library science and stop listening to these other people that tell you all this hokey stuff.
Ron Gula: [00:30:17] That's excellent. I think anybody who is an expert.
Can in fact, put out fact, and unfortunately what happens is a lot of times it gets spun. And it gets spun, on social media, sometimes filtered by social media folks. If you say the wrong word, you get banned and whatnot. Do you have any thoughts on maybe the chilling effect of, a group think and trying not to avoid certain things like for example, I've got a lot of friends who want to talk about, racism and getting more underrepresented into cybersecurity, but they're afraid they don't know the right words to use.
And what they're afraid of getting poked fun. Yeah.
Charles Bolden: [00:30:52] Yeah. My advice to your friends who are afraid of saying the wrong thing or stuff like that is say it we can't fix a problem if we don't know it. Don't expect that everybody with whom I work will love me. I don't expect that everybody with whom I work will respect me or or really want me as a black man to be in there in their presence.
But I do expect that they will understand what I bring to the team and they will come to realize that if I'm not there, there's something missing from the team and they want to win look at sports. How many how many professional athletic teams and it's almost in every sport now, every professional sport, how many professional teams do you think are willing to give up?
On diversity and say, okay, from this day forward, we're going to be an all white team. That's a question. How many do you think would do that? Very few. Probably none. Yeah. Not if they wanted to make money and they wanted to win. So why should we say, okay. Boeing, there are literally thousands of black and Asian and Indian and Hispanic engineers out there who are brilliant.
And and they're going to go to my competitor if I don't hire them. But I don't care. I'm going to, I'm not interested in women. I'm not interested in an underrepresented minorities. I'm going to go it alone. I'm going to go back to the way Boeing used to be. I'm going to be a, and I don't let me use a fictional company because somebody will say I'm giving Boeing a hard time and I'm not, it's just that they're critical to us in the space program.
And so I used them as an example, but they also are pretty sharp when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But just imagine they say, okay, I'm going back to the way it used to be. I'm going to go back to the way it was in the fifties, sixties and seventies and eighties. And we're going to look homogeneous.
It's going to be all white and all white males. And they would not be around very long. I would not imagine.
Ron Gula: [00:32:51] I think that's well said. And I think that's a, it's a mentality of people who want to communicate and bring that in. I participated in a couple cybersecurity diversity expos with the Aspen Institute and actually the first 15, 20 minutes of it was.
What two terms African-American men went to term black mean, what does it mean? And unfortunately that's, that needs to be hat. So something else I want to get into is more of your national security background. So if you look at NASA as a organization, ultimately for peace and science and exploration, How do we balance, work in rockets and that, that could be hypersonic weapons someday, or, perhaps instruments of privacy invasion.
If you're spying on us from space, how do we walk that line? And what do you think the future holds?
Charles Bolden: [00:33:39] Boy, Ron, I, that's and I'm pausing because I want to make sure my words come out. This is something that I talk about almost every day with my friends, because I. And I may differ at you and I have never had this discussion, but I, as a 34 year Marine I live my professional life counting on my ability to be able to engage with other people in involve myself in intelligent discourse with them and to be able to draw out of them.
Things that I might not like or draw out of them, their attitude toward me. And sometimes it would make me pretty angry when you really found out where they stood. But it was critically important for me as a military leader. To know that I could count on everybody in my organization and everybody who was external to my organization, but who supported us.
So it meant that I had to be able to work with some pretty ugly people from time to time, pretty bad people. But we had a common cause there was some ill or evil that we agreed that we were going to fight against. And we had to be able to communicate. We did with each other to be able to do that successfully.
And that's life is not black and white life is nuanced. And and I think you don't find it anywhere. As well as you do in the national security sector where you've got to be nuanced and the people, if you look at what the Biden administration is going through this morning with China, I happen to be a China fan.
I will say that right out. Let me explain that though. I think that China is a terrible actor in a lot of areas, human human rights and and in the cyber. Intrusion and the, like you name it staffed of intellectual property, but but sore some of our other allies and we learn how to work with them and it's incumbent upon us to put checks and balances in place and to put safeguards in place.
And I think that's what you and I were talking about at the very beginning, when I discovered that we needed these safeguards and I didn't even, I had no clue about when I became the NASA administrator. But it's incumbent upon us to continue to engage with people that we don't like, or we don't trust right now, but to put safeguards in place that will give us some indication when they're about to stray off the ranch or off the farm or off the reservation or whatever you want to call it, because I don't think we can afford.
Not to work with as many people around the globe as possible. The best example is the global campaign. DEMEC right now, the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot solve this problem alone. And it is incredibly important that we have teams from the world health, health organization now in Wu Han and other places around the world, we've got to find out what's going on causing all these variants and the virus because.
If there is a single nation that chooses to, to opt out of what the world is working on we're in trouble. We, once thought we had eradicated where we had solved the problem of polio. We had eradicated it and now there are a couple of nations on the planet that you know, Phil.
Fell off the wagon in terms of polio vaccines. And so we seeing a resurgence in polio in some parts of the world. That's that would be tragic if we didn't find it in a risk right away, smallpox. We've got to find a solution to this pandemic and get it applied across the globe or,
Ron Gula: [00:37:09] or we're
Charles Bolden: [00:37:10] forever subject to it or, about to be victims to it.
Ron Gula: [00:37:14] Is there enough space up there in space to, to have all the Starling satellites and all the new types of things are going to be flying up there. Is it going to get too,
Charles Bolden: [00:37:24] I don't let me answer your question in a couple of ways. I think there's plenty of space in space for things that are under control.
And things that we know where they are and we can move them when necessary to a safer orbit or we can avoid collisions big w if we, when we put something in space, we make predictions about where it's going to be 10, 20 years out, depending on what its planned lifetime is. Those kinds of things.
I'm confident. We're okay with it's what, it's the debris that we leave when when we allow a satellite to die or when a satellite explodes or even worse when nations decide that they're going to practice their warfare in space and use kinetic weapons anywhere from low earth orbit or near earth orbit.
All the way out people who don't understand and sometimes people who really do understand, but decided to do it in spite of the fact that you do a kinetic action in in earth orbit, you're polluting that orbit for sometimes years to come. There is not enough room and space for irresponsible actions like kinetic weapons systems.
In low earth orbit or other places, Starlink other multiple satellite systems that have a, an incredibly important mission, to try to bring. Broadband to nations of the world that today don't have it to allow school children in remote parts of the United States and other nations who, we'll just be blown away when they're able to have a computer in their home.
And they're able to communicate with kids around the world. That's that mission is really critical. But we, there has to be a level of responsibility and how you plan your constellation, such that. The big argument going on between. I guess it's space X and I don't know whether it's Amazon or somebody right now about whether or not space X is trying to freeze people out by completely saturating a particular altitude that, that particular orbit such that it blocks out the world from being able to communicate.
I'm certain, we can find ways around that. I'm not I'm not an expert at all, but I, but my guess would be, we can find ways around it but again, that calls for the companies to talk to each other and to negotiate who, it's like we do today. You don't just put a satellite up without coordinating with international bodies to determine, okay, can I have a 51 degree inclination 250 nautical mile orbit.
The sun synchronous whatever And the under, under conventions, then somebody gets approval to use that orbit. And that's, there is that's the kind of consultation that we need to constantly have. And it needs to be at some level, whether it's the United nations or some international entity, but there needs to be that, and there needs to be continued dialogue, such that as the, as it becomes more and more necessary we establish a body that people respect.
Yeah. And we'll at least comply with this, with the I guess what I call the conventions that they make since everything's not going to be. How do you feel
Ron Gula: [00:40:30] about the space of space command space force?
Charles Bolden: [00:40:34] I'm having I'm agnostic. When it, when the idea came up, I was opposed. I didn't think it was needed.
I'm not sure I've been convinced that it's needed even now, but I'm agnostic, it's there. And there's been a lot of time and effort and money invested. So I think our challenge right now is to do everything that we can to facilitate their success. You'd make roll on me. Who knows? I was not a big fan of commercial space when I became the NASA administrator.
I think everybody knows it, but it didn't take very long. The fact that the president liked it. That was one thing. And but also the fact that once I had an opportunity to talk to people like Elon and Gwynne Shotwell out at space X and. And I won't say, get to know but to talk to Jeff Bezos at blue origin and and Richard at Virgin and understand what it was that they saw, what was their vision and how how the, how did we establish the synergy?
Among the commercial sector, the private sector and NASA as the responsible body for civil space in the United States, at least. Then I, it grew on me and I became a strong advocate as I am today.
Ron Gula: [00:41:40] Did you see space force on Netflix with Steve Carell?
Charles Bolden: [00:41:43] I did not. I decided I was not going to watch that because I saw a couple of the previews and I said, okay I'm outta here.
I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna go there.
Ron Gula: [00:41:51] So that's how cyber people feel. Whenever you see somebody hack into a computer in a hoodie on TV.
Charles Bolden: [00:41:57] Okay. Know that, and that has nothing to do with cyber, but it has everything to do with our openness to, to. Two ideas. Are we judging the idea or we just judging the physical appearance of the person with that idea?
What I love about almost every, and this is a stereotype I'm about to talk about. I have no clue whether this is true but in my particular case, in my limited exposure to the cyber community, what I love is that almost everyone with which I've been associated they're full with, guys with earrings, dangling down and tattoos and stuff like that.
And if. A lot of them now, this is not every, I look at you. You're not like that, but buddy don't know each other that well yet, but a large majority of the ones with whom I have come in contact are people that on any other day would have been unacceptable in my circles today. I hope I have allowed myself to be open enough to ignore their appearance.
And pay attention to their brain. To, to the ideas that's coming out of that. If we can get ourselves to that point, I think we're going to be a lot better off. And
Ron Gula: [00:43:10] that's really well said now. I never worked at NASA, but I worked at the NSA very sometimes confused with NASA.
Sometimes if you go, when you see people coming in compared to it you see that element, right? You see the the earrings, the green hair right next to the three-piece suit.
Charles Bolden: [00:43:28] And that's exactly what I meant, it's it's interesting. Again, stereotype I'm dealing in stereotypes here.
When I look at the people who were being marched into court for espionage or things like that, I don't see any people with purple hair and earrings yet. Yeah, I'm
Ron Gula: [00:43:43] sure it'll happen. I think
Charles Bolden: [00:43:46] they will, but it's always the guys at three piece suits. Yeah. It's the people who have earned our respect because they look like they deserve it.
Whereas the kids running your business and making you successful the brains I am not comfortable around them. They don't. They don't look like somebody I want to associate with,
Ron Gula: [00:44:04] well let's close with getting more people into this career field. So I think at some point everybody wants to be an astronaut, but astronauts couldn't fly without all the software programmers, the cybersecurity people, the engineers, the mechanical engineers after fifth, how can we get more zoomers and kids.
To be technical to go into some sort of career field.
Charles Bolden: [00:44:26] Okay. I don't my former deputy administrator, David Newman, Dr. David Newman from MIT is watching, but I'm going to, hopefully I'm going to make her proud devas mantra is that we have got to get, we have got to push the concept of STEM plus a D on our kids starting in kindergarten, if not elementary school, at least.
And that's. The standards that science, technology, engineering, and math, but plus the arts and design. And so the way we get people into your field is we go after those kids who are really good in, who are really interested in arts and design and appear on the surface to have no pro propensity toward math and science at all.
When in fact. They are brilliant in math and science, because in the very ability to create the art that they do, they're using geometry and they're using trigonometry and they're using calculus and stuff every single day in, in making their designs and everything. They just don't know it. Their brains are just doing what we rely on.
On physical computers to do not human computers. And so I think we really need to push STEM plus a D. Encourage students, no matter what their interest but to follow their passion to help them realize what it is that they're good at and help them admit what they're interested in.
I'll give my baby granddaughter, Tonya Reese Bolden who I know is not watching this. She's a freshman at McClain high school, but I, she thinks I'm kidding all the time but she's my best example for. She's an incredible student, a great soccer player loves math is passionate about baking.
And and she thinks I'm kidding all the time when I said, why don't we send you to culinary school? And you could become a master Baker and have your own business and make millions. And she just kinda shucks me off, but that may not be in the cards, but I think that's an example of trying to look at students.
Help them assess where their passion is and help to direct them in that direction because you and I both know that if I like something I'm really gonna pursue it and I'm gonna follow it and I'm going to be good at it. If I don't like something, you can give me all the tools you want, but I'm going to go to work and moan and bitch and moan every day.
And I'm not going to be as good as I would be if I were somewhere where about which I was passionate.
Ron Gula: [00:46:58] I think that's well said, and I definitely am supporting doing more with STEM. So when you add that the art, Stephanie, you get steam, but I like the art and design as well. It's just, it's tough right now with COVID.
Our schools are struggling so much to. Keep the kids informed and engaged, but definitely it's very important for the future of the country. So that's really good words. Where can people go to learn about what you're doing with the Bolden group? And you've got some great people working with you, including people like Peter singer.
Who's one of my favorite authors.
Charles Bolden: [00:47:30] The one thing that's really now it is not my company. Okay. Let me admit that it used to be my one person operation and and I gave the company to my son and daughter. My son is is Che, who is a retired Marine. Really he's the heart and soul of the company.
Our daughter, Kelly. Who's a plastic surgeon in the DC area is responsible for their health initiatives. But if you go to bolden.group you're gonna, you're gonna find our website. W and we really are trying to deal in producing responsible leaders, ethical leadership, and the STEM plus 80 fields.
And what's somewhat unique about us is that we don't have normal employees, like other companies. We have members of the company who are people with expertise. Maybe like you run one of these days who have their own businesses and thier own things that they like to do, but they sign on to work with us.
And if we have an area of. Of need we reach out to them to bring along their technical expertise and get them in place where they can make a difference with somebody who's an up and coming company or an established company, but just needs some different thought to what they're doing. Awesome.
Ron Gula: [00:48:35] Awesome. All right. Last question.
Charles Bolden: [00:48:38] Be very critical of my description. I don't know whether he's watching or not, but if you get a lot of mail from Che that says don't. Can I come on and correct everything. My dad said I'll understand what will be. We'll put
Ron Gula: [00:48:50] links in the show notes to your family and the business.
That's awesome. All right. So last question to take us out. So you're now Matt Damon, you're the Marsh and on, on on Mars. And of course you're doing everything he did cause you're you understand that kind of stuff, but what one piece. Of technology. Would you want to bring with you to Mars that could work as if on earth?
Is it an entertainment? Is it a phone? What would you be bringing?
Charles Bolden: [00:49:12] Ooh Ooh, Ron, as a person who is, I think my family is the most important thing to me. I would bring a piece of technology that has managed to overcome. There is the restrictions or the limitations of the laws of physics, being governed by the speed of light.
And I would bring a technology that has found some magic way for me to communicate. If I'm a, if I'm a new parent to communicate with my child back on, on planet earth, real time such that we can have a conversation back and forth, and it's not delayed by. Oh, I want to say it's 14 minutes now.
I that's one, we didn't talk about it, but one of my concerns about human space flight, deep space exploration has nothing to do with technology. It's psychology. It's the, what is the, what's the human body. What's the human being going to do a new father who leaves the planet. My son was a year old when I deployed to Vietnam and I came back a year later.
And so I miss Jay's whole second year on the planet. And when I came back, he had seen pictures of me, but this physical thing was foreign to him. I would love to have a way such that when somebody leaves our planet to go to Mars and they make, unfortunately the eight month journey right now, one way that they can communicate with their kid real time.
And they can cry with them and laugh with them and do other kinds of things, such that when they come back. They're not strangers.
Ron Gula: [00:50:49] So what you're really saying is that aliens have given NASA, quantum entanglement, zoom technology. We
Charles Bolden: [00:50:55] would hope that that they have, but they haven't, we haven't. And I should not say this to my knowledge.
We have not communicated with them yet and and grasp the full understanding of it. But if there is such a thing I am hoping that we will be able to. To take that lesson learned from the aliens and apply it to operations on other celestial bodies, other than our planet earth.
Ron Gula: [00:51:19] Excellent.
Sir, thank you very much for sharing your history, your service to our country, both as a Marine and an astronaut, and I guess the leader of NASA as well. I think it's volunteer and go back into the government and help lead the nation. So thank you for joining us today,
Charles Bolden: [00:51:34] Ron. Thank you so very much.
Thank you for everything that you do and for your enthusiasm and your passion. I think it's really important. It's been such a. Just a distinct pleasure getting to meet you and know a little bit about you. And I look forward to working with you in the future.
Ron Gula: [00:51:48] Thank you very much, sir.
This has been episode four of the Gula Tech Cyber Fiction show.