NASA May Merge Exploration, Space Operations

NASA May Merge Exploration, Space Operations

NASA Headquarters is considering a merger of its Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD) according to a memo from the Associate Administrators (AAs) for the two Directorates. Doug Cooke is the AA for ESMD and Bill Gerstenmaier is the AA for SOMD.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by from NASA, stresses that no final decision has been made. It alerts employees to ongoing discussions in response to a request from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and notes that ESMD and SOMD will be responding as a team during negotiations with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) over the FY2012 budget request.

The existence of the memo, emailed to SOMD and ESMD employees on December 20, was reported today by Amy Svitak at Space News; the story is posted on

NASA headquarters has used a variety of organizational arrangements to manage its human spaceflight program since it was established in 1958. ESMD and SOMD were created by then-Administrator Sean O’Keefe in June 2004, several months after President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. NASA’s History Office maintains a website of organization charts showing how NASA headquarters, and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), were organized throughout the agency’s history.

Reorganizations thus are not uncommon. The current discussions are in response to the ending of the space shuttle program and “the likely transition away from the Constellation Program” according to the memo.

The split between the two Mission Directorates basically has been that SOMD operates current human spaceflight programs while ESMD is in charge of longer-term future programs. ESMD was established to execute the Constellation program that emerged from President Bush’s mandate. It now is in charge of studies on how to reformulate that program to conform with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act while still abiding by the language in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prohibits NASA from cancelling Constellation or initiating a new program without congressional permission in a future appropriations act. ESMD also oversees technology development efforts and manages robotic spacecraft programs that support future human exploration of space. SOMD operates the International Space Station, the space shuttle program, and space and flight support activities.

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