NASA replaces key administrator amid push to return to moon

Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag. Image courtesy of NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center

"Removing experienced engineering leadership from that effort and the rest of the nation's human spaceflight programs at such a crucial point in time seems misguided at best".

Five decades after Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon, FRANCE 24 takes you inside NASA.

"In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate".

To meet this "bold challenge", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an email to employees that Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) missions directorate, has been removed from his position and assigned an advisory role, the Washington Post and other USA news outlets. Effectively, NASA's first and second in command of humans in space have been replaced at the same time. The Trump administration has requested $1.6 billion in supplemental funding for NASA's 2020 budget to help kick start Artemis development.

The two moves are huge personnel changes within NASA's human exploration division coming at a critical time when the agency is trying to sell its ambitious lunar program, called Artemis, to Congress.

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Bridenstine told CNN Business in June that NASA will need an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years for its moon project Artemis.

Wednesday's shakeups are the latest as NASA aims to transform itself into "a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization", as Pence said in the March speech to the National Space Council.

The head of NASA's human exploration programme Bill Gerstenmaier was abruptly reassigned on 10 July as the space agency's Administrator Jim Bridenstine informed employees in a memo that instead, Gerstenmaier will serve as special assistant to NASA's Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard, reported the Washington Post. Mark Sirangelo, who was recently hired to helm a new "Moon to Mars" directorate at NASA, resigned after just one month of working at the agency, and NASA made a decision to scrap plans for the new division altogether.

In a memo addressed to the space agency's employees, Bridenstine explained that the leadership change is a bid to meet the challenges of the upcoming 2024 moon mission.

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