Kathy Lueders New Head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

Kathy Lueders New Head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

Kathy Lueders is the new head of NASA’s human spaceflight program — the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).  She succeeds Doug Loverro who resigned last month after less than six months on the job. She has gained renown as manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that on May 30, in partnership with SpaceX, launched the first American astronauts into orbit from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Kathy Lueders. Credit: NASA

Her appointment as Associate Administrator (AA) of HEOMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC is effective immediately.  Her deputy, Steve Stich, will take over the Commercial Crew Program, which is enjoying the ongoing flight of the Demo-2 crew, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) while at the same time working with its other partner, Boeing, to get the Starliner system back on track.

Ken Bowersox, who has been serving as Acting AA of HEOMD, will return to his position as deputy.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Lueders is “the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we’ve been given.”

In an exchange of messages with SpacePolicyOnline.com, Wayne Hale called it a “wonderful choice.  Could not have picked a better person.”

Hale chairs the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, which provides advice to the HEOMD AA.  Hale is a former space shuttle flight director and program manager and is currently director of human spaceflight and energy services at Special Aerospace Services.

Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), applauded the decision. “Kathy Lueders has been a wonderful leader of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and a great partner with industry.  Her experience and leadership make for the right person for the job. Great choice!”

Lueders (pronounced “Leaders”) joined NASA in 1992 as Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering Systems and Reaction Control Systems Depot Manager at White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. She served in numerous positions in the ISS program, including deputy manager for station logistics and maintenance, vehicle systems integration manager, and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services integration manager.  In 2013, she moved to Kennedy Space Center as acting manager of the Commercial Crew Program and became its permanent head a year later.

She is the first woman to serve as AA for NASA’s human spaceflight activities and one of very few to hold top positions at NASA Headquarters over the agency’s history.

Lueders has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from the University of New Mexico and a Bachelor and Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from New Mexico State University.

Her appointment hopefully ends a period of churn at the top of HEOMD.  Bridenstine dismissed HEOMD’s long-time AA Bill Gerstenmaier in July 2019.  In October, he selected Loverro, but Loverro did not report for duty until December 2, 2019.  He unexpectedly resigned on May 18, less than six months later, because of a “mistake for which I alone must bear the consequences.”  Details have not been made public, but rumors are that it concerned the award of contracts for Artemis Human Landing Systems.

HEOMD is responsible for executing the Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and then go on to Mars with commercial and international partners; operating and utilizing the ISS with its international partners, including the commercial crew and commercial cargo programs; transitioning from the government-owned and operated ISS to what NASA hopes will be an era of commercial space stations where the agency pays only for services, the way it does for commercial crew and cargo; NASA’s ground and space-based communications networks; and acquiring launch services for all NASA spacecraft.

The ongoing Demo-2 crewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is a feather in Lueders’ cap, but she and SpaceX officials repeatedly stress that the mission is not over until the crew is back on Earth, probably in August. Crew Dragon still must be certified for operational missions, which NASA hopes to do very soon thereafter. Boeing’s Starliner is not as far along.  A repeat of an uncrewed flight test that was only partially successful in December is expected later this year and its crewed flight test at an undetermined time next year.

As HEOMD AA, Lueders will still be responsible for all of that, but at a much higher level as she manages all of HEOMD’s other activities as well.  It is a daunting task.

This article has been updated.


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