News outlets are reporting that former NASA astronaut Charles Bolden is among top candidates to head the space agency under President-elect Barack Obama. If tapped, Bolden, 62, would be the first African-American to serve as NASA administrator.

As an astronaut from 1980 to 1994, Bolden flew into space four times, piloting two shuttle missions and commanding two more, according to his official NASA bio. He left the agency to return to the military, having previously served in Vietnam and as a naval test pilot, and rose to the rank of major general in the U.S. Marine Corps before retiring in 2003. In 2002, Bolden was nominated to serve as NASA's deputy administrator, but the White House withdrew his name after, the Houston Chronicle reports, "the Pentagon objected to civilian agencies drafting high-ranking officers during wartime." At the time, the U.S. was at war in Afghanistan.

It is not a foregone conclusion that current administrator Michael Griffin, a Bush appointee, will get the boot come Inauguration Day, but Florida Today reports that Griffin does not expect to be kept on and is preparing to step down January 20 when Obama takes office.

Bolden has expressed surprise at the mention of his name as Griffin's potential replacement, telling the Houston Chronicle last night that he had not been contacted by Obama's transition team. Other names mentioned for the nation's top space job: Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut in space; Pete Worden, director of the NASA Ames Research Center; Scott Hubbard, a former Ames director; and Alan Stern, a former NASA official who lambasted the agency in a November op-ed in the New York Times for endemic cost overruns.

Photo of Bolden courtesy of NASA