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NASA suddenly reassigns key human program leaders as Trump Moon's mandate approaches



William Gerstenmaier, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Directorate of Human Exploration and Human Operations, gave a press conference in June 2019.
Photo: Bill Ingalls (AP)

William Gerstenmaier, NASA's long-time associate director for his human exploration program, has been reassigned to the position of special advisor to NASA's deputy administrator, Jim Morhard, in what appears to be a demotion pretty neat, reported Wednesday the Washington Post.

Gerstenmaier, who has been working for NASA since 1977, has overseen "some of NASA's most prominent programs and is known to be a consistent and methodical force at the agency's headquarters," wrote the Post, collaborating recently with Boeing and SpaceX contractors of the Commercial Crew Program. on their replacements for the space shuttle to retirement. Its reassignment appears to stem from the White House's desire to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024 instead of its previous goal of 2028, an initiative taken abruptly by Vice President Mike Pence in March, which would not not be duplicated by chance. end of the second term of Donald Trump.

NASA Assistant Deputy Administrator for Human Exploration, Bill Hill, second in command, has also been reassigned to a position of special advisor to NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk.

"As you know, NASA has had the daring challenge of placing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, focusing on the ultimate goal of the event. send human beings to Mars, "said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. personal, according to the Post. "In order to meet this challenge, I decided to change the direction of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) mission direction."

The former astronaut and current deputy administrator, Ken Bowersox, will now assume leadership of the human exploration program, reportedly writing Bridenstine in his e-mail.

In addition to the commercial crew program, Gerstenmaier oversaw operations of the International Space Station (which the Trump administration has considered privatizing) and NASA's space launching system (whose publication has pointed out that he had frustrated the Trump administration because of "several years behind schedule" and budget overrun. "). According to the Post, he was also overseeing the lunar return program, Artemis, for which the House -Blanche was also frustrated because she felt the project did not have enough advance.

In fact, on Wednesday, Gerstenmaier had appeared before Congress to talk to Artemis at an audience on the future of ISS and low Earth orbit exploration:

"NASA's Artemis program will build an open and sustainable architecture that will bring humanity to our nearest neighbor," wrote Gerstenmaier in his testimony at the hearing. "We are building for the long term, and this time we are going to the moon to stay. We design an open, sustainable and reusable architecture that will support deep space exploration for decades. "

According to the Verge, it is unclear whether Congress will approve the additional $ 1.6 billion in funding for the Artemis program requested by the White House. The administration has suggested that the extra money comes from Pell Grant's financial aid program, reported the Verge.

Some experts say that the White House has not proposed a clear reason for astronauts to return to the moon by 2024 and that the busy schedule could lead to serious security problems even if it were fully funded, according to experts. Popular Science. According to previous information published by the Post, many NASA employees are skeptical that the goal is achievable without destroying other missions or that the agency currently has the funds needed for it. # 39; s reach. Bridenstine acknowledged that he needed $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion over and above the current NASA budget to carry out this mission, while the president himself seemed … let's say, confused on NASA guidelines.

However, Pence's 2024 mandate is not a target, but a thinly veiled threat. In his speech announcing this initiative, he said: "If NASA is not currently able to bring American astronauts to the moon in five years, we must change the organization, not the mission."

It is worth noting that a recent report from Ars Technica citing "multiple sources inside and outside NASA" reported disputes between the administrators of the company. agency responsible for manned space flights and the Office of Management and Budget of the White House. According to these sources, the OMB was trying to kill Gateway, a tiny planned space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a central point between the Earth and a lunar landing site, knowing that the mission could be cheaper and faster without it. They also indicated that they suspected Gerstenmaier was pushing for Gateway because of the possibility that a Democratic candidate would win the election and return to the original date of 2028 or reinstate Gateway's original goal as Deep Space "for a mission on Mars.

"When someone like Elizabeth Warren is elected, what will they do?" Said a source at Ars Technica. Will they say we like the idea of ​​Trump space? Surely not. They will say that we do not want to do that. Gerstenmaier has already gone around this block. He tries to cover all the bases. "

Gerstenmaier also said earlier this year that NASA would not abandon the space launch system rocket test Space Launch System (SLS), which according to NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Group. , is essential to "guarantee the safety of its operations". Skipping the test would save six to nine months and give NASA more leeway to achieve the 2024 goal, and Bridenstine suggested it could be shortened or ignored.

However, the security panel warned that "[s]Long-term launches on the launch pad will not provide an understanding of operating margins and could have serious consequences. NASA Spaceflight recently reported that, although NASA management has recommended the test, no final decision on its status has been made.


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