NASA's human spaceflight chief ousted just before big launch

The Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-2 arrives at LC-39A where it will launch on the next NASA human spaceflight mission – via NASA

A leading figure at Nasa responsible for the agency's human spaceflight programs has suddenly resigned just days before the United States is set to send astronauts back into space from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program was retired nearly a decade ago.

Doug Loverro has resigned as Associate Administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate.

In an email that Loverro sent to NASA employees, he said he was leaving the agency due to a mistake he made during his tenure, but did not elaborate on the nature of the mistake. "I believe it's absolutely possible for us to do so", he said of the 2024 goal of landing astronauts on the moon, despite skepticism from some committee members. "Doug has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and I want to thank him for his service and contributions to the agency". However, two industry officials tell POLITICO that he was pushed out by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The acting replacement for the head of the directorate will be Ken Bowersox, who also served in this role during the transition between Gerstenmaier and Loverro a year ago.

Next week's launch, which is set for 27 May, will mark the first time that Nasa has launched a shuttle carrying people from USA soil since 2011.

"Eric Berger speculates ".his departure does not seem to be directly related to his work on Crew Dragon. Ars Technica heard it might stem from the lunar spacecraft bidding process that saw Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics win contracts.

Space Shuttle Columbia piloted by Ken Bowersox lands at the Kennedy Space Center at the conclusion of STS-50 – via L2
Space Shuttle Columbia piloted by Ken Bowersox lands at the Kennedy Space Center at the conclusion of STS-50 – via L2

Until now Loverro had played a key role in key NASA projects, including the Artemis program, which plans to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. Vice President Mike Pence threatened past year that if NASA fails to make it happen by 2024, the Trump administration will "change the organisation, not the mission".

"The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly".

"NASA has the right leadership in place to continue making progress" on its ongoing spaceflight programs, the agency said.

Douglas Loverro during a NASA town hall event, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. He served as the acting head of spaceflight after NASA ousted NASA veteran Bill Gerstenmaier previous year in another personnel shake-up, and is expected to once again step into the role. Now, in the rest of the time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which only I must bear the consequences.

NASA's chief of human exploration Douglas Loverro has resigned just days before the first astronaut launch in almost a decade from Kennedy Space Center. "Under this administration, we've seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our nation's efforts at human space flight".


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