The White House has ordered a complete outside review of NASA's manned space program, including plans to return astronauts to the moon.
Bolden flew in space four times -- twice as shuttle commander -- and once was assistant deputy administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington. The 62-year-old Bolden left NASA in 1994.
If the Senate confirms Bolden, he would be the space agency's first black administrator and the second astronaut to hold the post.
Obama also announced that he was nominating Lori Garver to be NASA's deputy administrator. Garver was Obama's NASA transition chief and is a former associate administrator at the agency.
"These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America