NASA Appoints First Female Head Of Human Spaceflight, After Predecessor Abruptly Resigned

Kathy Lueders oversaw the historic launch of American astronauts from American soil at the end of May in her previous role as Commercial Crew Program Manager. NASA/Joel Kowsky

Katy Pallister 15 Jun 2020, 17:59

On Friday, June 12, NASA appointed Kathy Lueders as their new Head of Human Spaceflight, becoming the first woman to hold this position. In her new role, Lueders will oversee the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, which includes the Artemis program – the agency’s mission to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

With a career at NASA spanning nearly three decades, Lueders most recently held the position of Commercial Crew Program Manager. Here, she led NASA’s efforts to safely transport astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Indeed, she was one of the key players in the historic launch of NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft at the end of May.

“This is such a critical time for the agency and for HEO,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “We still need to bring Doug and Bob home safely and we’re not going to lose focus. We have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there.”

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Lueders' appointment comes just weeks after her predecessor, Doug Loverro, abruptly resigned on May 18, 168 days after he began the job. With only days to go before the agency’s historic launch, Loverro’s resignation caused much speculation, with many assuming a link between the two events. However, speaking to Space.com, Loverro said that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

In a leaked statement emailed to the NASA workforce, Loverro said he “took… a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.”

Whilst the exact “risk” has not been addressed by Loverro, a longtime Pentagon official, nor NASA, sources with knowledge of the situation indicated that it was to do with the procurement process of moon-landers for the Artemis mission, as NASA announced in April that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX had been selected to build human landing systems for the Artemis mission. Specifically, according to arstechnica, some suggested that he violated the Procurement Integrity Act, which “prohibits the release of source selection and contractor bid or proposal information.”

When Space.com asked Loverro about this theory, he declined to comment, whilst a NASA spokesperson said they “are unable to discuss personnel issues.” Ken Bowersox, a veteran of five Space Shuttle launches, served as acting head of human spaceflight in the transitional period between Loverro and Lueders.

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