Doug Loverro Named New Head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

Doug Loverro Named New Head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

Doug Loverro, well known for his national security space policy credentials, will become the new head of NASA’s human spaceflight program.  He succeeds Bill Gerstenmaier who was dismissed from that position by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in July.  Loverro most recently served in government as an Obama appointee at DOD.  He is now a consultant and strong advocate for creating a Space Force.

Doug Loverro. Credit: DOD

A former Air Force officer, Loverro managed several space programs at Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). They include SMC’s Global Positioning System (GPS) from 1999-2002 and NRO’s Future Imagery Systems from 2002-2006. He retired from active duty as a Colonel after 30 years of service in February 2006.

As a civilian, he served as NRO’s Deputy Director for System Engineering from 2006-2007 and SMC’s Executive Director and Deputy Program Executive Office for Space from 2007-2013.  He became well known and highly regarded in Washington space policy circles as DOD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy in President Obama’s second term (2013-2017).

As a consultant, Loverro has been a frequent speaker and witness at congressional hearings on national security space issues, especially on the need to reorganize DOD to better manage and execute its space programs by creating a Space Force. (Bridenstine also is a vocal Space Force advocate.)

His appointment generated some surprise today because of his lack of background in civil space, especially human spaceflight.  He will be the Associate Administrator (AA) for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), overseeing not only the Trump Administration’s prized Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, but the International Space Station and its commercial crew and commercial cargo programs, and space and flight support including the agency’s communications infrastructure and launch services procurement.  HEOMD receives almost half of NASA’s total budget.

Those who know him sing his praises, however.  John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University and founder of its Space Policy Institute, is one of them.

This is a management job, and Loverro has a background as a successful manager. It is also a policy job, and in his most recent position Loverro dealt effectively with tough issues both domestically and internationally. His lack of background in human spaceflight may even be an asset, if he can bring fresh eyes and ideas to the challenges he will face. — John Logsdon

Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning at the Secure World Foundation, said he thinks Bridenstine “was keen on bringing in someone who has a proven track record of managing big programs with technical and political challenges and would be willing to challenge the status quo” more than someone with NASA or human spaceflight experience.  As head of space policy at DOD, Loverro “advocated strongly for leveraging commercial capabilities and international partnerships” for protecting U.S. national security space capabilities,”which went against a lot of the prevailing culture in the national security community” at the time. “That seems similar to what NASA is trying to do with its future exploration programs.”

Phil Larson, chief of staff and assistant dean of the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science who served in the Obama White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that Loverro is taking on a tough job.

It’s a challenging spot to come into at the agency. If he takes a similar, forward-looking approach as he did in DOD that leverages new ideas and capabilities, then his appointment could signal a positive trajectory for NASA. — Phil Larson

Indeed, NASA and the White House are looking for new ideas on how to make the agency more nimble and responsive.  In announcing the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 — four years earlier than NASA was planning — Vice President Pence told NASA that if it could not meet that deadline, the agency would have to change, not the goal.

Bridenstine ousted Gerstenmaier, a highly respected 42-year NASA veteran, and his deputy for Exploration Systems Development, Bill Hill, in July. Bridenstine explained it was because of his concerns that their cost and schedule estimates were not realistic.

Another Gerstenmaier deputy, former astronaut Ken Bowersox, has been serving as Acting AA for HEOMD since then.  He will return to that position when Loverro is on board.

Loverro has his work cut out for him navigating among the NASA workforce and its contractors, the White House, and Congress while trying to get three new human spaceflight systems safely ferrying astronauts to and from ISS in low Earth orbit (SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner) or the Gateway in lunar orbit (SLS/Orion) and landing on the Moon by 2024.  All while ensuring that his cost and schedule estimates ARE realistic.

Bridenstine, a former Congressman from Oklahoma who served on the House Armed Services Committee and House Science, Space & Technology Committee, said in a press release today that he worked with Loverro for many years on Capitol Hill “and he is a respected leader in both civilian and defense programs, overseeing the development and implementation of highly complicated systems.”  Loverro “is known for his strong, bipartisan work and his experience with large programs will be of great benefit to NASA…”

Loverro has a B.S. in chemistry from the Air Force Academy, master’s in physics from the University of New Mexico, a master’s in political science from Auburn University, and an MBA from the University of West Florida.  He was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College and Squadron Officer School, and was the top graduate from DOD’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

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