NASA’s chief of human spaceflight resigns days before critical crew launch

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Douglas Loverro in a NASA “town hall” meeting last December. Credit: NASA

MAY 19, 2020–NASA’s head of human spaceflight programs, Doug Loverro, has abruptly resigned within days of Demo Mission 2, the first crewed U.S. space flight within nearly a decade.

Doug Loverro initially joined NASA in December after decades of managing military space programs, replacing Bill Gerstenmaier, who was removed by Administrator Jim Bridenstine last July, and went on to work for SpaceX.

Ken Bowersox, a veteran astronaut, will now replace Loverro as the acting head of human spaceflight programs, effective Monday.

Loverro’s job at NASA was to guide the agency’s ambitious efforts to return astronauts – the first woman and the next man – to the surface of the moon by 2024, a goal set by the Trump administration. Loverro would wear a lapel pin counting the days remaining to the deadline. He also would have overseen the Flight Readiness Review for DM-2, a critical safety systems check.

The sudden resignation of Loverro comes at a striking time – within eight days of DM-2. Loverro initially said he “had 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,” as he wrote in a message to NASA employees, continuing to say “But that is not to be.”

Loverro’s sudden absence has very much raised alarm in the spaceflight community. Loverro left with an ominous note, saying he had taken “a risk” earlier in the year he judged necessary to fulfill “a mission”.

Bob Benkhen and Doug Hurley (L-R) preparing for the DM-2 mission inside a Dragon capsule simulator.

“Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I have made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences”

Douglas Loverro

When reached by National Public Radio (NPR), Loverro said “I think I’m going to let my message speak for itself.”

Loverro also insisted that his resignation has “nothing to do with [NASA employees’] performance as an organization nor with the plans we have placed in motion to fulfill our mission. My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.”

Either way, many are still deeply concerned over Loverro’s resignation. Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), chair of the space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said in a tweet:

NASA spokespeople have declined to comment to outlets so far on the matter.

Ken Bowersox pictured during STS-73, prior to re-entry. CREDIT: NASA

However, many are also confident in NASA’s replacement, Bowersox. Wayne Hale, an aerospace engineering consultant and retired NASA space shuttle program manager told Business Insider that while he was “surprised as anyone” to learn of Loverro’s resignation, he insisted that he “has great confidence in Ken Bowersox. He has the experience and judgment to shepherd human spaceflight through the coming weeks.”

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