Sirangelo to NASA — Hi and Bye

Sirangelo to NASA — Hi and Bye

Mark Sirangelo is leaving NASA after less than two months.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the news in a memo to employees.  Sirangelo was hired as a special assistant to Bridenstine to work on the Artemis Moon program with the expectation he would head a new Moon to Mars Mission Directorate. Congress nixed the reorganization plan, so Sirangelo is leaving.

Sirangelo is very well known in the space community primarily from his years as Vice President of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems Division where he led the Dream Chaser program.  He left last year and joined the University of Colorado Boulder as an “entrepreneur in residence.”

On April 8, Bridenstine announced that Sirangelo was joining NASA to take charge of developing a strategy and plan for putting humans back on the Moon by 2024 — recently named Artemis — and lead an agency restructuring to create a Moon to Mars Mission Directorate to implement it.

Bridenstine’s memo explaining Sirangelo’s departure yesterday was brief and to the point.


It followed House Appropriations Committee approval of the FY2020 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill, which rejects NASA’s proposal to eliminate the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and ignores NASA’s supplemental request for $1.6 billion for Artemis.

Eliminating STMD was proposed by NASA as part of a broader effort to restructure NASA’s HQ management structure and its budget accounts to focus on human spaceflight. NASA proposed the first part of the reorganization last year. Congress rejected it then as well.  STMD was created in 2011 during the Obama Administration to focus resources on developing new crosscutting technologies that could be used for a wide range of space and aeronautics programs instead of being developed for a specific mission.  The other Mission Directorates have their own funding to advance technologies for their specific needs.

STMD and its money would have been merged with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).  NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk, who previously headed STMD, was assigned to decide what to do from there, with the expectation that HEOMD would be split in two — one part for space operations like the International Space Station and future commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, and the other for development of systems for the Moon to Mars program — a Moon to Mars Mission Directorate.  It essentially would have returned the HQ structure to what it was before 2011 when HEOMD was formed by the merger of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and the Space Operations Mission Directorate.

Although the House Appropriations Committee did not specifically state in its bill or explanatory report that NASA could not create the new Mission Directorate, it was quite explicit about not eliminating STMD.

“The Committee reaffirms its support for the independence of the Space Technology Mission Directorate and recognizes that its current status enables it to support the development of a wide array of various technologies. … The Committee directs NASA to preserve the Directorate as a standalone entity within the agency, and to maintain its focus on broad technology development goals that are independent of mission-specific needs.”

The bill allocates $1.292 billion for space technology including congressionally-directed spending for nuclear thermal propulsion ($125 million), the Restore-L satellite servicing demonstration ($180 million), in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly ($72.4 million), and solar electric propulsion ($48.1 million).

The committee also ignored NASA’s request for an additional $1.6 billion for the Artemis Moon program and criticized the shifting of NASA’s priorities towards human spaceflight at the expense of science and education.

As Bridenstine’s letter stated, with Congress rejecting the idea of a Moon to Mars Mission Directorate, Sirangelo decided to leave rather than continue as a special assistant to the Administrator or join HEOMD, which is headed by Bill Gerstenmaier.

Sirangelo, Gerstenmaier, Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen, and STMD deputy Therese Griebel collectively briefed the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee on Tuesday, presenting a whole-of-NASA approach to the Artemis program and highlighting its benefits for scientific research.  There was no indication at the time that it would be Sirangelo’s last public appearance as a NASA employee.

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