WASHINGTON – In an idea that has surprised most of the space industry, NASA has reassigned two top executives of its exploration program, including Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Manned Space Flight Program Manager.
NASA's director, Jim Bridenstine, said in a note to NASA employees that Bill Gerstenmaier, a deputy administrator in charge of human exploration and operations, had been reassigned to serve as its new chief executive officer. Special Assistant to NASA Assistant Administrator Jim Morhard. The reallocation was effective immediately. Bridenstine said Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who joined the agency earlier this year as a deputy from Gerstenmaier, would be appointed acting deputy administrator.
Bill Hill, Assistant Deputy Administrator for the Development of Exploration Systems, has also been reassigned. He will now be Special Advisor to Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk. Tom Whitmeyer will assume the duties of Acting Assistant Deputy Administrator.
Bridenstine's note gave little explanation as to why he was replacing Gerstenmaier and Hill. "As you know, NASA has been challenged to place the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, with the focus on the ultimate goal of". send human beings to Mars, "he wrote. "In order to meet this challenge, I decided to change the direction of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) mission direction."
Moving staff to "special advisor" positions is generally considered a demotion for those who can not be fired. These positions have little or no responsibility, and those who have been reassigned as special advisors usually leave the agency shortly thereafter.
The timing of reallocations has taken more surprises inside and outside the agency. Bridenstine, speaking at the 2019 Future Space conference held here on July 10, gave no indication of an impending reshuffle, offering a general overview of NASA's exploration plans, including the development of the lunar bridge.
Mr. Gerstenmaier also showed no sign of reassignment in his testimony before the Subcommittee of the House Scientific Committee on Space Responsible for Commercial Activities on the International Space Station. His testimony and the audience as a whole focused on the low-Earth orbit marketing strategy announced by NASA in June.
Some have speculated that reallocations were the result of discontent by agency leaders, and perhaps the White House, at the pace of the development of the Artemis lunar program and its key elements, the space launch system and the spacecraft. Orion space.
"The president has asked NASA and administrator Jim Bridenstine to achieve this goal by all means necessary," said Vice President Mike Pence in a March speech in which he announced the Lunar landing goal at the 2024 horizon. "You must consider all the options and platforms available to achieve our goals, including industry, government and the world. set of the American space company. "
Gerstenmaier, who joined NASA in 1977 as an engineer at the Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, then held leadership positions in the shuttle and flight schedules. ISS before becoming Assistant Space Operations Administrator in 2005. He became Assistant Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations in 2011 when NASA merged its space exploration and exploitation mission directorates.
Gerstenmaier, or "Gerst," gained almost universal admiration and respect for his leadership and expertise, and Congress frequently asked him to testify about NASA's activities in the field of manned space flights. "He's getting used to the testimony before us," said Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Speaker of the House Subcommittee on Space, during her opening remarks at the conference. July 10 hearing. "We are happy to see you again and appreciate your presence as we examine these important issues."
"We can not exaggerate the importance of Gerst for NASA in recent decades," tweeted Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who later worked for SpaceX and is now a professor at the University of Southern California. "It has been the glue that has allowed NASA and Congress to move forward after Constellation. Once, I told him that he was the only point of failure of the manned space flight program. "
He did, however, salute Bowersox, another former astronaut who also worked for SpaceX. "I have a lot of respect for him" he wrote. "He is a man of integrity who will serve NASA well."