The head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs has abruptly resigned, announcing his departure from the space agency two days before before he was to chair a crucial readiness review ahead of the launch of the first crewed U.S. space mission in nearly a decade.
Doug Loverro joined NASA in December after decades managing military space programs, and his tenure at NASA lasted just six months. He replaced Bill Gerstenmaier, who was removed from his post by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine last July in a shakeup of the space agency’s human spaceflight efforts.
In a statement Tuesday, NASA said Loverro resigned from the agency effective Monday. NASA did not specify a reason for Loverro’s departure, which happened eight days before the first launch of U.S. astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in nearly nine years.
Loverro was to chair the Flight Readiness Review Thursday for the mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station on a test flight designated Demo-2, or DM-2.
Industry sources told Spaceflight Now that Loverro resigned due to issues during the procurement of NASA’s Human Landing System for the Artemis program, which aims to develop crewed moon landing vehicles to carry astronauts to the lunar surface by the end of 2024, an aggressive schedule set by the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Loverro said in an interview his resignation had “nothing to do” with the Crew Dragon flight scheduled for next week.
“It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don’t want to characterize it in any more detail than that,” Loverro told the Washington Post.
“Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “His leadership of HEO (Human Exploration and Operations) has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024.
“Loverro has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and we thank him for his service and contributions to the agency,” Bridenstine said.
Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator and and most senior career civil servant, will take Loverro’s place as chair of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 Flight Readiness Review, a NASA official said.
Loverro was also scheduled to participate in a press conference Thursday after the conclusion of the Flight Readiness Review. Bridenstine is expected to take media questions Wednesday at the arrival of Hurley and Behnken at Kennedy to prepare for the final week before their launch on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
In an all-hands letter to NASA employees, Loverro wrote that he is leaving the agency “because of his personal actions.”
He wrote that he “truly looked forward to living the next four-plus years with you as we returned Americans to the surface of the moon and prepared for the long journey beyond. But that is not to be.”
“Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks,” Loverro wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday. “Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description.
“The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly,” he wrote. “I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission.
“Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences,” Loverro wrote. “And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18th, 2020.”
In the letter, Loverro told employees that he is not leaving NASA because of any performance issues within the human spaceflight workforce.
“If anything, your performance and those plans make everything we have worked for over the past six months more attainable and more certain than ever before,” Loverro wrote. “My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.
Bridenstine announced Loverro last October as the new associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Loverro officially joined NASA in December, overseeing a key time in the agency’s human spaceflight programs as NASA moved closer to launching astronauts on U.S. vehicles for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
Loverro led the human spaceflight directorate in the wake of a botched test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule in December, in which the spacecraft failed to dock with the International Space Station due to a mission timing software error. The spacecraft safely landed in New Mexico two days after launch, but Boeing ground teams had to overcome another potentially catastrophic software miscue before re-entry.
Loverro also managed NASA’s Artemis program, in which the agency aims to land humans on the south pole of the moon by the end of 2024.
Ken Bowersox, Loverro’s deputy, will take over as acting chief of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate. Bowersox filled the same role last year between Gerstenmaier’s reassignment and Loverro’s arrival at NASA.
Bowersox is a retired U.S. Navy test pilot, and a veteran of five space missions. He commanded two space shuttle flights, and led the Expedition 6 crew on the International Space Station in 2002 and 2003.
“NASA has the right leadership in place to continue making progress on the Artemis and Commercial Crew programs,” Bridenstine wrote.
Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut and manager in SpaceX’s Dragon program, tweeted that timing of Loverro’s resignation was “not good,” but expressed confidence in Bowersox, another former SpaceX manager.
“Next week will mark the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight with the launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station,” Bridenstine wrote, adding that NASA has “full confidence” in the Commercial Crew team.
“This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible,” Bridenstine wrote.
Loverro and his team conducted a major program status assessment earlier this year, recommending a reorganization of the human spaceflight directorate in order to meet the 2024 schedule for a crewed landing on the moon.
NASA selected three contractors April 30 to design new human-rated lunar landers for the Artemis program. The agency selected industry teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX to continue work on lunar lander concepts during an initial 10-month work period.
Last week, Loverro told the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee that officials performing the Artemis program status assessment recommended down-selecting to two lunar lander contractors early in development. According to a chart in Loverro’s presentation last week, the early down-select would “maximize resources” for the remaining contractors.
Bridenstine told Spaceflight Now in late April that he hoped NASA could keep all three companies in the mix.
“We are hopeful that we can go forward with all three,” Bridenstine said. “It doesn’t mean that we will, but I think that each one of them is so unique and different, that we want to see what are the best capabilities that each of these companies bring to the table that we can take advantage of. That’s what this base period is really all about.”
“As far as down-selecting, if we did down-select, we would probably down-select to two,” Bridenstine said. “We wouldn’t probably go below two. That’s because there’s a difference between going fast and going sustainably, and a lot of these different companies have different solution sets for achieving each of those requirements.”
Loverro agreed that going forward with two contractors would allow the companies to remain in a competition, potentially driving down costs to NASA in the process.
“Clearly, we’d love to go ahead and keep three on-board, but the budget will probably require that we go ahead and move to fewer contractors,” Loverro told Spaceflight Now last month. “Two is probably the least that we’ll get to. We need to keep competition going. Obviously, that’s critically important as well. And we need to make sure that we are able to focus each contractor on the objectives that we believe are most important for them.”
NASA’s head of human spaceflight resigns one week before historic launch
Douglas Loverro, NASA’s head of human spaceflight, has resigned one week before the agency and SpaceX are set to resume astronaut launches from Florida.
Loverro surprised the aerospace community by resigning Monday, just seven months after being named associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. He oversaw all programs involving astronauts, including the International Space Station, Artemis moon mission and the Commercial Crew Program that will launch astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on May 27. Loverro’s deputy associate administrator, Ken Bowersox, will serve as the acting associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.
“Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” the agency said in a statement. “His leadership of (Human Exploration and Operations) has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024.”
More on next week’s launch: NASA discusses its first astronaut launch from U.S. soil since 2011
More immediate, however, is the launch next week where Hurley and Behnken will head to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. This will be the first astronaut launch from U.S. soil into orbit since 2011, when NASA retired the space shuttle, and it’s an important flight test for SpaceX to receive NASA certification for more routine human launches.
The flight readiness review for this mission — to make sure all the pieces are in place for the launch, to do a final check of hardware and crew safety, etc. — is Thursday. Loverro was supposed to chair this review. It will now be led by NASA Associate Administrator Stephen Jurczyk, who has been with the agency since 1988.
NASA did not say why Loverro resigned.
In an email obtained by Ars Technica, Loverro told NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations staff that he had made a mistake.
“Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description,” Loverro said in the email. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences. And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned.”
David Alexander, director of the Rice University Space Institute, said the news dampens some of the excitement around next week’s launch.
“It is not ideal when you change out a member of the team, particularly such an important member, on short notice,” Alexander said.
But he doesn’t think it will affect next week’s launch as Commercial Crew has an experienced team capable of making the needed decisions. John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, also doesn’t expect Loverro’s resignation will affect the launch.
“Commercial Crew has its own momentum. It’s own management structure,” Logsdon said. “I don’t see why his departure should change that particular aspect of human spaceflight.”
The NASA statement praised next week as “a new era in human spaceflight” and said it has confidence in the work done by Kathy Lueders, NASA’s program manager for Commercial Crew, and her team.
“This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country,” NASA said, “and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.”
Quelle: Houston Chronicle
NASA’s human spaceflight program suffers leadership loss with Loverro departure
It didn’t have to happen. But Doug Loverro, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, was forced into leaving his position just a week before NASA returns to launching astronauts on American rockets.
The news shocked many except for a few at NASA headquarters 9th floor. The 9th floor is where NASA leadership have their offices.
Pushed by an aggressive White House timeline, with an almost impossible goal of returning American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, Doug Loverro was faced with decisions that needed to made in quick succession.
He went about his task with precision, honed by years serving in the military and various Defense positions, and found a path forward that might get Americans astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, just as President Trump commanded.
In so doing he made decisions that weren’t liked by everyone. Tough decisions. This included recently selecting the three companies for the Artemis program human landing system, a decision that was critical to making the 2024 date.
In his letter to his colleagues on his leaving Loverro stated “my leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.” It’s cryptic, and points to a story that hasn’t been told yet, but which will be someday.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent his own note to NASA staff noting Loverro’s resignation, but not dealing with the “why” he was leaving.
NASA Watch broke the story with the headline “Doug Loverro Was Asked To Resign And He Has.” I spoke with NASA Watch editor Keith Cowing who said sources told him that there’s much more to the story. It’s a matter of time before it comes out.
Of importance to Canada, Loverro was the architect of changes to Artemis program that included reducing the role of the Lunar Gateway to accommodate the 2024 timeline. While not completely descoped, the Lunar Gateway is no longer in the critical path.
For now, Ken Bowersox, Loverro’s deputy is taking over the role of Acting Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations directorate. He’s done that once before when Bill Gerstenmaier was reassigned.
There’s no timeframe to name a permanent Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operation. When that does happen though there could be changes to the Artemis program including the role of the Lunar Gateway.
At this time though, NASA is focused on the SpaceX Crew Demo 2 launch set for next Wednesday, May 27, which will see American astronauts launch from American soil for the first time since 2011.