NASA's human spaceflight chief ousted just before big launch

Katie Ramirez
May 20, 2020

The timing of Doug Loverro's departure is dire, as NASA's first human launch in almost nine years will occur in just eight days.

NASA's associate administrator for the human exploration and operations mission directorate, Doug Loverro, has abruptly and unexpectedly resigned-after just seven months in that role and just over a week before the first manned test of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.

Loverro took over the job in October from his predecessor, William Gerstenmaier, who was demoted and would eventually leave NASA. "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". However, two industry officials tell POLITICO that he was pushed out by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Former astronaut Ken Bowersox will serve as the acting associate administrator, a role he took when Gerstenmaier was ousted from his position.

The announcement comes just eight days before SpaceX attempts to launch its first astronauts under NASA's commercial crew program.

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Three weeks ago, NASA announced that three companies would win support for lunar lander development: a team led by Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash. -based space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; a team led by Dynetics, an Alabama-based aerospace company; and SpaceX, which proposed its Starship super-rocket. Loverro is fully committed to the space agency's goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024. Vice President Mike Pence threatened previous year that if NASA fails to make it happen by 2024, the Trump administration will "change the organisation, not the mission". "I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission", Space News quoted the email as saying.

NASA's human exploration chief, Douglas Loverro, has resigned effectively immediately-roughly a week before the first manned launch in nearly a decade. "Under this administration, we've seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our nation's efforts at human space flight".

NASA's return to US-based crew launches will take place under less-than-ideal circumstances.

In a letter to NASA, Loverro said he was stepping down due to his "personal actions" and not the agency's performance. He is the current deputy associate administrator for human exploration and is familiar with the commercial crew program and the upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon flight.

Two people with knowledge of the situation said his resignation was spurred when Loverro broke a rule during NASA's recent procurement of a spacecraft capable of landing humans on the moon. A vital launch readiness review is planned for later this week. In a farewell message to NASA staff, NPR wrote, Loverro referred to this as a "mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences".

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