Ken Bowersox To Succeed Retiring SOMD Head Kathy Lueders

Ken Bowersox To Succeed Retiring SOMD Head Kathy Lueders

The first woman to head NASA’s human spaceflight enterprise will retire at the end of April, NASA announced today. Kathy Lueders will be succeeded by her deputy, former astronaut Ken Bowersox, effective May 1. Bowersox has extensive experience not only flying in space, but in top positions in what is now the Space Operations Mission Directorate.

Kathy Lueders, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations. Credit: NASA

Lueders’s 31 years at NASA have been spent in human spaceflight programs including the space shuttle and the International Space Station. She is particularly well known for leading the Commercial Crew Program that worked with SpaceX and Boeing on development of spacecraft to ferry crews to and from ISS after the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is already used routinely to take crews — both for NASA and private astronauts — to orbit and Boeing expects its Starliner to enter service this year. Both were developed through Public-Private Partnerships where they retain ownership of the systems and NASA only procures services from them, but they must meet NASA safety requirements.

In June 2020, then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine chose Lueders to take over the agency’s entire human spaceflight program as Associate Administrator (AA) for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).

In 2021, current NASA Administrator Bill Nelson split HEOMD in two, with Lueders keeping the operations portion renamed the Space Operations Mission Directorate.  NASA’s Moon-Mars efforts became the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate with Jim Free as AA.

SOMD oversees operations of the ISS including the commercial crew and cargo programs, the development of commercial space stations to replace it, and indispensible services like NASA’s space and terrestrial communications networks.

Her appointment came after a fraught period when the long-time head of HEOMD, Bill Gerstenmaier, was abruptly dismissed by Bridenstine in July 2019 and his successor, Doug Loverro, resigned after just five months on the job.

Ken Bowersox, NASA deputy AA for Space Operations. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

It was Bowersox, then HEOMD deputy, who stepped up to serve as Acting AA in both cases.

Chosen as a NASA astronaut in 1987, Bowersox is a retired Naval Aviator who flew on five NASA space shuttle missions accumulating 211 days in space.

On his last flight, Bowersox was aboard the ISS when Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed during reentry on February 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

He’d launched to the ISS on Space Shuttle Endeavour in November 2002 for a four-month mission, Expedition 6, intending to return on Space Shuttle Atlantis in March 2003. The space shuttles were grounded and Bowersox and his Expedition 6 crewmates stayed on ISS until May 2003, returning on Russia’s Soyuz TMA-1 instead, which experienced its own problems, making an off-course landing after a ballistic descent.

Bowersox retired from NASA and the Navy in 2006 and from 2009-2011 was Vice President of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance at SpaceX.  In 2013, he became a member of the NASA Advisory Council and chaired the Human Exploration and Operations Committee and was interim chair of NAC from 2016-2017.

He rejoined NASA in 2019 as Gerstenmaier’s deputy.

Bowersox joins two other former NASA astronauts in the agency’s top ranks, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy (class of 1994) and Associate Administrator Bob Cabana (class of 1985). NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also is a former astronaut having flown into space as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986.

Nelson called Lueders a “tremendous public servant and a trailblazer” who championed “a new way of doing business in low Earth orbit” with Public-Private Partnerships. Bowersox “has been instrumental to advancing NASA’s goals … and I know Space Operations will be in good hands under his leadership.”

User Comments 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.