Cabana Replaces Jurczyk as Top NASA Civil Servant

Cabana Replaces Jurczyk as Top NASA Civil Servant

Bob Cabana is replacing Steve Jurczyk as NASA’s Associate Administrator, the top civil servant in the agency and third in command. Cabana, a former astronaut and currently Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, is a long-time friend of new NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Bob Cabana, Director, Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

A career Democratic politician from Florida, most recently as the state’s senior U.S. Senator, Nelson’s announcement today continues the trend of bringing trusted Florida and Capitol Hill colleagues into the agency.

Last week, Nelson appointed his former Senate chief of staff, Suzie Perez Quinn, to fill that role for him at NASA. His former press secretary, Jackie McGuinness, is his press secretary now. Alicia Brown, a professional staff member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on which Nelson served, is NASA’s Associate Administrator for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Nelson and Cabana first met in 1985 when Nelson, then a Congressman chairing a space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, was preparing to fly on the STS 61-C space shuttle mission in January 1986. Cabana was a newly selected astronaut candidate at the time.

Cabana went on to pilot or command four space shuttle flights. After leaving the astronaut office, he switched into management, rising to become Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center in Texas. From there he became Director of Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and then Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. He is widely credited with transforming KSC into a “multi-user spaceport” no longer solely tied to NASA, but open to partnerships with industry, like leasing Launch Complex 39-A to SpaceX.

Cabana assumes his new duties on May 17.  His deputy, Janet Petro, will become Acting KSC Director.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA Associate Administrator. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Jurczyk will retire from NASA on May 14 after 32 years with the agency. He is a former Center director himself (Langley Research Center) and former Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. He has been Associate Administrator since May 2018 and was Acting Administrator from January 20 until Nelson was sworn in last Monday.

Cabana was appointed KSC Director in 2008, the beginning of a tumultuous period for the Center. The space shuttle program was nearing its end. In 2004, President George W. Bush had directed that the shuttle be terminated once construction of the ISS was completed, expected in 2010.

Bush initiated the Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon and someday go to Mars as the next human space exploration program to succeed the shuttle. Many shuttle workers at KSC planned to transition from the shuttle to Constellation, which envisioned developing two new rockets, Ares I and Ares V.

But President Obama cancelled Constellation in 2010 because he viewed it as unaffordable. He proposed turning human spaceflight over to the commercial sector to develop systems to take crews to and from ISS (“commercial crew”), with no immediate plan for human exploration missions beyond. He later embraced the idea of sending humans to orbit Mars in the 2030s, but with no return to the Moon first.

The impact on the KSC workforce and Florida’s Space Coast was dire as nearly 8,000 contractors were laid off.

Nelson spearheaded efforts in Congress to initiate a NASA-led human exploration program with a new big rocket in part to support Cabana’s workforce and the Florida economy. In the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, Congress directed NASA to build the Space Launch System (SLS), while also permitting Obama to move forward with commercial crew.

Pam Melroy, nominee to be NASA Deputy Administrator. Credit: Rosina Possingham.

President Trump restored the goal of returning astronauts to the Moon before going to Mars, using SLS and its Orion crew spacecraft. After years of delays, all the components of the first SLS are now at KSC undergoing integration. The final piece, the SLS core stage, just arrived at KSC. NASA hopes the first launch, Artemis I, will take place late this year, but Cabana said last week it more likely will be early 2022.

Pam Melroy, another former NASA astronaut, was nominated by President Biden to be NASA’s Deputy Administrator. Assuming she is confirmed, the top three positions at NASA will be held by astronauts, two of whom (Cabana and Melroy) were space shuttle commanders. Melroy is one of only two women who hold that distinction.

They have eight space shuttle flights among them:  Nelson (STS 61-C), Cabana (STS-41, STS-53, STS-65, and STS-88), and Melroy (STS-92, STS-112, and STS-120).

Now they have the challenge and the opportunity to get American astronauts back on the Moon with the Artemis program while maintaining a balance between human spaceflight, including the ISS and whatever will succeed it, and the rest of NASA’s portfolio of programs in science, technology, and aeronautics. Everyone will be watching to see if three astronauts maintain that balance.

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