In a major change affecting future exploration missions, NASA will announce today that it is dividing the responsibilities of its manned space agency into two segments.
As part of the reorganization, the agency’s current head of all manned space activities, Kathy Lueders, will resign. NASA has also brought back a former senior manager, Jim Free, to serve as program director.
Lueders will lead a segment of the new office, the Space Operations Mission Directorate, and oversee operational programs such as the International Space Station and commercial occupation programs. The other part of the reorganized office, awkwardly named Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, will manage the development of the Artemis Moon program, including the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket, and Human Landing System. Free will serves as its boss.
“Kathy has shown exceptional leadership and overseen tremendous progress in her role as assistant manned spaceflight administrator,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “And we’re very excited to welcome Jim back to the agency. Together, this dynamic duo will help shape the future of human exploration.”
According to NASA, the creation of two separate components of the manned space program “will ensure that there are concentrated oversight teams in these critical areas to support and execute the mission’s success”. But it represents a significant change from the way NASA worked in nearly two decades, when a single person was responsible for manned spaceflight.
Free served from 2016 to 2017 as the deputy of the longest-serving of these manned space chiefs, William Gerstenmaier worked as a consultant.
An agency source familiar with the change told Ars that Free’s return represents an attempt to tackle a fairly “thin” space agency leadership bank. It’s an opportunity to bring back someone with experience in designing hardware for space missions.
However, another industry source was more critical of the change, saying it could represent a setback for commercial space. “This will just add additional red tape and send mixed messages to Capitol Hill, the industry and international partners,” the source said.
According to most reports, Lueders has done a commendable job in recent years. Under her leadership, NASA and SpaceX managed to get the commercial crew program safely across the finish line, with Crew Dragon now flying operational missions to the International Space Station. It also managed to advance the Artemis program by selecting SpaceX to build a Human Landing System in April and maintaining that decision despite an uproar in Congress and a lawsuit from another land vendor, Blue Origin.
It is now being removed from this decision-making process by someone who is much less familiar with commercial space.
The new head of the Artemis program, Free, was director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center from 2013 to 2016. Previously, Free also served as the Orion spacecraft’s service module manager, which gave him an in-depth understanding of the traditional space programs of NASA and its predecessor companies. including Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
“I’m excited to be back with NASA,” Free said in a statement. “We will work hand in hand with our colleagues in Space Operations and focus on ensuring the success of the Artemis missions in the near future while creating a clear plan defined path for human exploration of Mars as our horizon target.”
This article was previously published on Source link