Charles F. Bolden, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, NASA astronaut and the 12th administrator of the U.S. space agency, is the 2017 recipient of the Philip J. Klass Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bolden overcame the barriers imposed on African-Americans in his native South Carolina to win admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1964. That marked the beginning of a lifetime of public service that continued until his retirement this year.

NASA's 12th administrator, Charles Bolden

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree at Annapolis, Bolden chose a commission in the Marine Corps and began flight training in the A-6A Intruder. He flew more than 100 combat missions over North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1972-73.

Awarded a Master of Science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1977, Bolden entered the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, moving on after graduation to test a variety of ground-attack aircraft for the Naval Air Test Center.

Charlie, as he prefers to be called, was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1980. He flew in space on the shuttle four times, twice as commander. Among his achievements in orbit were piloting Discovery when she deployed the Hubble Space Telescope on STS-31, and commanding the mission that included the first Russian cosmonaut in a U.S. crew, as NASA began collaborating with its Cold War rival in the post-Soviet era.

Bolden remained in the Marine Corps while at NASA, retiring as a Major General. His active-duty service included a combat command in Kuwait during Operation Desert Thunder in 1998, service as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Japan, and command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego.

Named NASA administrator by President Barack Obama in 2009, Bolden shepherded the agency through the difficult transition that followed the end of the space shuttle era into development of spacecraft for deep-space human exploration. He oversaw completion of the International Space Station, the unmanned first flight of the Orion crew vehicle, development of the heavy-lift Space Launch System, and the shift to a commercial approach for U.S. civil-space access to orbit.

Cutting-edge space technology has forged ahead, too. Last year the James Webb Space Telescope’s optics were completed, and are in testing for a launch by the end of 2018. And as NASA reaches back to the dawn of time with the Webb, it is keeping a close eye on today’s changing Earth with a constellation of new satellites to monitor the climate.