night, July 10 – saying that Bill Gerstenmaier, the longtime and widely respected head of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) mission directorate was out effective immediately, as well as one of his chief deputies Bill Hill.
Gerstenmaier will be shifted into an advisory position for the NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.Bridenstine announced the sudden and very surprising top management changes to NASA’s human exploration in an email to all NASA employees Wednesday evening, July 10 and furthermore stated the changes would be effective immediately.
Bridenstine gave few details on the reasoning behind the shakeup other than stating that it was related to the Trump Administrations new goal to land Americans on the lunar south pole by 2024.
“As you know, NASA has been given a bold challenge to put the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, with a focus on the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars. In an effort
to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate.”
“Effective immediately, Ken Bowersox will serve as Acting Associate Administrator for
HEO,” wrote Bridenstine. “Bowersox, who previously served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for HEO, is a retired U.S. Naval Aviator with more than two decades of experience at NASA. He is an accomplished astronaut and a veteran of five space shuttle missions and served as commander on the International Space Station.”
Gerstenmaier has been the familiar face of NASA for all of NASA’s human spaceflight projects – including the Space Shuttle, Commercial Crew program, International Space Station, Space Launch System (SLS), Orion deep space crew capsule and the Lunar Gateway and the recently announced Artemis program to land humans on the Moon by 2024.
He appears frequently on various TV platforms as well as NASA TV for media interviews, congressional hearings, space, astronomy and industry conferences and forums, and was very highly regarded and respected virtually universally by agency employees, media and industry.
In fact Gerstenmaier had just testified to Congress earlier in the day Wednesday, July 10, only hours before his ouster – see lead photo.
“I am grateful for Bill’s leadership. He has provided the strategic vision for some of NASA’s most important efforts, including the International Space Station, Commercial Crew Program, the lunar
Gateway, Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.”
“We, as a nation, are thankful for his service in advancing America’s priorities and expanding the
limits of science, technology, and exploration.”
But NASA has been under pressure lately to speed up development of the SLS and Orion hardware critical to achieving a human lunar landing by 2024 – ever since VP Mike Pence announced the accelerated Moon landing goal at a speech in March this year at NASA’s Huntsville facility.
Pence announced the Trump Administration was moving up the human lunar landing goal by 4 years from 2028 to 2024. The program was recently renamed Artemis.
President Trump approved NASA’s request from Bridenstine for a supplemental $1.6 Billion boost to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget request to kick start development of a human lunar lander for Artemis and achieve the 2024 lunar landing goal.
Congress has yet to approve the funds and its fate is uncertain as Morhard told me at Michoud last week.
However the mammoth SLS Moon/Mars rocket is years behind schedule and over budget.
The first SLS flight had been planned for 2017. But that has now slipped to late 2020 at the earliest and more likely 2021.
The Trump Administration has been pushing NASA to get Artemis 1 launched by 2020 during Trump’s 1st term and “by any means necessary” as directed specifically by VP Pence in March.
So a major question has been whether NASA will still conduct a full duration 8 minute long “green run” test of the RS-25 engines of the completed core stage at NASA Stennis.
NASA officials at Michoud indicated to me last week that the “green run” test would most likely be conducted – but a final decision has yet to be made.
The green run test will require about 6 months of work before shipment to KSC for integration of the complete SLS/Orion rocket for Artemis 1.
Skipping the green run test in favor of a much shorter duration short engine firing on pad 39 at KSC would save a lot of time and make a 2020 first launch of SLS much more likely – but it also leave significant uncertainly into whether the SLS rocket is really ready to launch.
Those decisions could possibly have played a role in Bridenstine’s decision to replace
Gerstenmaier with Bowersox – but no one knows.
It has been said that Gerstenmaier favored retaining the green run test per NASA’s current strategy.
The core stage for NASA first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis 1
mission is being manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New
Orleans as seen here on June 28, 2019. The RS-25 engines will be installed into
the SLS engine section Summer 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
SLS is being built by Boeing and has experienced major hardware problems during its manufacture at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans amd recently visited by Space UpClose.
Crews delivered the last of four RS-25 engines for Artemis 1, the first
flight of NASA’s Space Laun ch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, from NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to NASA’s Michoud Assembly
Facility in New Orleans Thursday, June 27, 2019. The engines are lined up
side-by-side and will be installed into the SLS engine section Summer 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
The Orion crew vehicle is being built by Lockheed Martin and is moving forward and seems likely to be able to support a 2020 launch atop SLS.
In fact just last week NASA conduct the critical Ascent Abort-2 test on July 2 and confirmed that the launch abort system tower can successfully pull Orion away in a split second in case of a catastrophic rocket failure.
See our AA-2 articles and photos.
And the ground systems for SLS are also on track at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The refurbished and enhanced SLS Mobile Launcher was rolled out last week to the top of Launch Complex 39B from which it will launch. See our photos.
|SLS/Orion model display at KSC Visitor Complex Credit: Ken
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events
Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Jul 15/16/17: Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, evenings. Learn more about the upcoming/recent NASA Orion Ascent-2 Abort test Falcon Heavy, NASA 2024 Moon landing goal, SpaceX Starlink-1, SpaceX Falcon 9/CRS-17 launch to ISS, SpaceX Demo-1 launch/test failure, SpaceX Beresheet launch, NASA missions, ULA Atlas & Delta launches, Northrop Grumman Antares, SpySats and more
Ken’s will display his photos for sale