Charles Bolden Jr. —a former Marine Corps major general, astronaut, and NASA administrator—received recognition for his contributions to science, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Bolden, 71, is the recipient of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s 2017 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. The award honors those who make major contributions to research and discovery that connects the public to science.
He joins a list of recipients that includes the human genome pioneer Craig Venter and primatologist Jane Goodall, who famously discovered that chimps make tools when it was previously thought that only humans did.
The award honors physicist William Nierenberg who died in 2000. Victoria Tschinkel, Nierenberg’s daughter, presented Bolden with the award, calling him a “visionary” who inspired the public to reflect on the wonders of space.
“As NASA administrator, Gen. Bolden saw his role to be the head of space for the earth, an ambassador for science, technology and appreciation for the natural world,” she said, according to The Union-Tribune.
He was appointed NASA administrator in 2009–the first African American to hold that post. Bold, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, resigned from NASA on the day the president took office, The Washington Post reported.
Bolden’s success didn’t come easily. Coming of age during the peak of the Jim Crow era in Columbia, South Carolina, his segregated school didn’t offer advanced math or science. At the U.S. Naval Academy, he was one of seven Black students in a 1,400-student class and often dealt with antagonism, the news outlet noted.
After military service, which included combat missions in Vietnam, he became an astronaut and went on four space shuttle flights–pivotal missions that sparked research about earth and other planets.
“I believe space exploration is one of the most important tools this generation will use to bring about the better future that you deserve – a more peaceful future; a greener future,” he said during his acceptance speech, according to The Union-Tribune.