NASA Hopes to Name New HEOMD Chief In Weeks Not Months

NASA Hopes to Name New HEOMD Chief In Weeks Not Months

The top civil servant at NASA said today that the agency is actively looking for someone to replace Doug Loverro as the head of the human spaceflight program and hopes to name someone within weeks, not months.  It took three months to find Loverro and another two before he reported for duty in December 2019.  His sudden departure less than six months later adds turmoil to the effort to get astronauts back on the Moon by 2024.

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

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s Associate Administrator, spoke during an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) webinar this afternoon.  He is the third highest ranking person at the agency.  The top two, Administrator and Deputy Administrator, are political appointees,  Jim Bridenstine and Jim Morhard.

Bridenstine abruptly dismissed Bill Gerstenmaier as Associate Administrator (AA) for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) last July after more than a decade leading human spaceflight activities at NASA Headquarters.  It took until October for Bridenstine to select Loverro, who reported for duty on December 2.

But on May 18, Loverro was asked to resign.  He explained he made a mistake for which “I alone must bear the consequences,” but no other details were forthcoming. He insists he has “no regrets.”

He was in the midst of reorganizing HEOMD, which has broad responsibilities for the International Space Station (ISS) and its commercial crew and commercial cargo programs; efforts to commercialize other human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit like building successors to the ISS; the Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and then go on to Mars; NASA’s ground and space communications networks; and other tasks.

Loverro said recently he was working with Congress to get approval for the reorganization, but Jurczyk said today it now is on hold until the new HEOMD AA is on board.

The churn at the top of HEOMD adds to the challenges of meeting the Trump Administration’s directive to get “the first woman and the next man” on the surface of the Moon by 2024, the end of a second Trump term if he wins reelection in November.  Although he was there for only five-and-a-half months, Loverro was making substantial changes in the architecture for getting back to the Moon especially with regard to the Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon to support surface operations.

Members of an HEOMD advisory committee recently characterized the 2024 goal as a “pipe dream” and the chances of meeting it “really, really remote.”  Four days later, Loverro was out and the program’s leadership was up in the air once again.

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