HEOMD Reorganization Illustrates Focus on Near-Term LEO, Moon Goals

HEOMD Reorganization Illustrates Focus on Near-Term LEO, Moon Goals

NASA’s reorganization of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) shows it is primed for its near-term tasks of operating in low Earth orbit (LEO) and getting astronauts to the Moon. Mars planning is assigned to a newly created organization that will integrate spaceflight activity across all of HEOMD.  The reorganization also reveals that Gateway may still be part of the Artemis III landing after all.

Kathy Lueders, Associate Administrator for HEOMD, outlined the new organization at a meeting of the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) on Wednesday and follow-up exchanges by SpacePolicyOnline.com with a NASA spokesperson added details.

One surprise is that the Gateway, the small space station that will orbit the Moon, is described as a “key Artemis III system” managed by the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division. Until March, Gateway was indeed characterized as a critical element for Artemis III, the place where astronauts would transfer between Orion and the Human Landing Systems (HLS) to get down to and back from the lunar surface. But in March, NASA decided Gateway was not needed for Artemis III, only for later missions during the sustainable phase of lunar exploration. In May, NASA said an initial version of Gateway will be in place in 2023, the year before Artemis III lands, but Lueder’s predecessor, Doug Loverro, told an advisory committee the same month it would not be used for the landing. The HLS systems must be able to dock directly with Orion for Artemis III.

Asked about the inclusion of the Gateway as a “key” Artemis III system managed by AES, the NASA spokesperson replied that the “agency has not made a decision about whether the Artemis III human landing system will dock with the Gateway…”  Apparently the agency’s views have changed since May.

Marshall Smith, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Systems Engineering & Integration, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

Responsibility for Mars planning was not mentioned in any of the descriptions NASA provided of the reorganized divisions. When asked, the NASA spokesperson replied it is part of the Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) organization Lueders just created. Although President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon in Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1), he makes it very clear he is much more interested in ensuring that “America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars.” That view is shared by many on Capitol Hill who support human exploration beyond LEO and do not want the “horizon goal” of landing astronauts on Mars lost amid the near-term focus on the Moon.

Marshall Smith, who had been leading the Human Lunar Exploration Program in HEOMD, is now the Deputy Associate Administrator (DAA) for SE&I. Only by reading his updated biography does his role in Mars planning become clear. He is “responsible for translating the agency’s human space exploration vision into an integrated portfolio that supports national exploration goals and ensures sustainability and extensibility of current programs to long term strategic human exploration of the Moon and Mars.” Whether that will assure Mars advocates that their goal has a high enough priority remains to be seen.

Completing the long-awaited reorganization is a feather in Lueders’ cap after just three months on the job, though she said it took a month longer than she had hoped.

HEOMD is the biggest of NASA’s Mission Directorates in terms of funding. It consumes about half of NASA’s annual budget. In addition to NASA’s human spaceflight activities, HEOMD manages the agency’s space communications and navigation (SCaN) activities and acquiring commercial launch services for all of NASA’s Mission Directorates. In NASA’s budget documentation, it incorporates spending in the Deep Space Exploration Systems and Spaceflight Operations accounts. For FY2020, those accounts totaled $10 billion of the $22 billion the agency received. For FY2021, the request is $12.95 billion out of $25.2 billion.

Plans to reorganize began soon after President Trump signed SPD-1 in December 2017, reinstating human landings on the Moon to NASA’s future human spaceflight program. Under the Obama Administration, NASA was headed to Mars without stopovers on the lunar surface, only operations in lunar orbit as a steppingstone to Mars.

NASA proposed an agency reorganization in 2018 where the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) would have been eliminated and most of its activities — and money — merged into HEOMD. Congress rejected the proposal, however, and has repeatedly made clear that it wants STMD to remain a separate organization developing cross-cutting technology for the entire agency, not just for human spaceflight.

Last year, after Vice President Pence accelerated the lunar timetable by directing NASA to land astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced plans to create a new Moon to Mars Mission Directorate to execute the plan. Congress rejected that idea, too, apparently concerned about creating another bureaucracy.

The question thus became how best to organize HEOMD to accomplish its multifacted missions: operate the International Space Station (ISS) with its commercial cargo and commercial crew programs, facilitate the development of commercial space stations in LEO to succeed it, return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 on the Artemis III mission and operate there sustainably thereafter, get ready to send astronauts to Mars, and execute its SCaN and launch services responsibilities.

Those discussions have been underway for over a year during a period of turmoil in HEOMD leadership. Bill Gerstenmaier, who headed the Directorate for more than a decade, was dismissed in July 2019 along with Bill Hill who was managing the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs. Doug Loverro replaced Gerstenmaier in December 2019, but unexpectedly resigned in May 2020. Lueders, who was managing the commercial crew program, was appointed to head HEOMD in June. At the September 16 WSBR meeting, she announced the reorganization had been approved the previous day and gave a quick summary.  Adding information from the NASA spokesperson, here is how the new organization looks.

  • Marshall Smith is DAA for Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I), reporting directly to Lueders. Another excerpt from his new bio says that as “the directorate’s senior engineer, Smith distills HEO-level architecture strategy into actionable program objectives and mission requirements for HEO organizations to implement. A key function of this position is integrating spaceflight activity across all HEO organizations to aggregate a knowledge base that results in an efficient and effective approach to implement NASA’s human spaceflight strategy.”
  • Toni Mumford is now DAA for Management. She had been DAA for Policy and Plans.
  • Tom Whitmeyer, who replaced Bill Hill on an acting basis, remains acting DAA for the Exploration Systems Development (ESD) Division.  ESD manages the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion crew spacecraft, and their associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS).  NASA said “ESD  is responsible for the first two test flight missions of Artemis, namely Artemis I and Artemis II. Any missions beyond Artemis II are currently managed by AES.”  (Artemis I is a test flight of SLS/Orion without a crew.  Artemis II is a test flight with a crew. Artemis III is the mission that will put astronauts back on the Moon.)  NASA told SpacePolicyOnline.com it will be advertising for applicants to take the position permanetly, but it is not on USA Jobs as of today.
  • Mark Kirasich is now DAA for the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division. He was manager of the Orion program (Catherine Koerner is his successor in that job). AES manages “development of key Artemis III systems such as the Gateway and the Human Landing System, and subsequent missions.” As discussed, including Gateway as a “key” system for Artemis III is a surprise.
  • Phil McAlister is the director of the Commercial Spaceflight Development Division, managing the commercial crew program (the SpaceX and Boeing systems to ferry crews to and from ISS) and LEO commercialization. The division also oversees the ISS National Lab (ISSNL), the portion of resources on the U.S. segment of the ISS that is available to non-NASA users including the commercial sector. NASA has a contract with the Center for the Advancement for Science in Space (CASIS) to manage ISSNL that was recently the subject of a highly critical independent review. Alex MacDonald, NASA’s Chief Economist, has been brought in as ISSNL Program Executive to fix the problems.
  • Robyn Gatens was recently appointed as the acting director of the International Space Station (ISS) Division, succeeding Sam Scimemi who was suddenly reassigned as a special assistant last month. Her division also manages the ISS commercial cargo program.  NASA posted this position on USA Jobs on Friday. Applications are due by October 6.
  • Badri Younes remains director of the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Division.
  • Jim Norman remains director of the Launch Services Division.
  • Brian Dewhurst remains director of the Resources Management Division.
  • Alotta Taylor is director of the System Integration and Management Division “where a Program Integration function was implemented to ensure HEOMD’s programs and projects are organized and structured for maximum acquisition and programmatic success and in a manner consistent with National, Agency and Directorate policies.”
  • Benjamin Neumann is director of the Human Spaceflight Capabilities Division. That division consists of Rocket Propulsion Testing and the Human Research Program. The latter was formerly part of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA). Two other parts of SLPSRA, the Space Biology Program and the Physical Sciences Program, earlier were transferred to the Science Mission Directorate.

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.