WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he had reassigned Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the manned spaceflight agency, as time was limited to solve cost and time issues with the agency's key exploration programs and to meet the deadline for people to return to the moon by 2024.
In an interview with reporters from SpaceNews and The Washington Post for the C-SPAN program "Newsmakers" of July 12, Bridenstine also questioned whether commercial crews Company Can Launch Astronauts
The interview came two days after Bridenstine's transfer from Gerstenmaier, the Associate Exploration and Operations Administrator, and Bill Hill, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, to the US as Special Advisor. The announcement surprised many, especially since Gerstenmaier enjoyed a high reputation in the entire space industry.
"We are entering a new era of manned space flight in which the administration wants to move quickly, and we are interested in doing so. I felt it was important to have a new leadership at the head of the directorate for exploration and operations missions, "he said. "I just thought it was important to make that decision and make that change at that time."
Bridenstine praised Gerstenmaier, who started at NASA in 1
Bridenstine said he would decide to reassign Gerstenmaier and Hill on the eve of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Apollo 11, as the timetable was put under pressure by the government's goal of letting 2024 people land on the moon. "We do not have much time to lose. If we want a new leadership, it has to be done now, "he said. "We have to move fast in all our decisions."
Gerstenmaier is temporarily replaced by his deputy, former astronaut Ken Bowersox. Bridenstine said in a July 11 memo that he was planning a "nationwide search" to find someone to take on the job on a permanent basis, who would then hire two deputies, one for exploration systems such as the space launch system and Orion and a new deputy Associate Administrator, responsible for activities such as Gateway and Lunar Lander.
"We are looking for a total of three people to form this top team," he said in the directorate. "We will look for them to look at the programs and work out their own plans and costs, and then ultimately have them executed on these master plans."
Bridenstine suggested that it would be up to the new leadership team in the Mission Directorate to make important decisions to tackle cost and schedule issues with these programs, especially the core phase of the SLS. Delays in the development of this core phase prompted Bridesntine to propose in March that NASA could shorten or even omit a core phase "Green Run" test in which its four engines are fired at a test stand at the Stennis Space Center for eight minutes. This proposal was criticized by some members of the Congress as well as NASA's own Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.
Bridenstine said the agency did not make any changes to the Green Run. "I want to make sure we get these top people in position and then have them watch the program," he said. "Ultimately, we let them determine what tests need to be done." He added that he expected some form of testing to take place, "but how much of a green run do we have to do is ask. "
" The key is, we want to make sure number one, our astronauts are safe, and number two, that we can meet cost and schedule, "he said.
Paying for Artemis
The change of leadership in NASA's exploration programs is due to the agency's attempts to provide Congress with billions of additional funding for the Artemis program. In an interview with CNN in June, Bridenstine estimated that it would cost $ 20-30 billion if the agency's goal was to land people on the moon by 2024.
"The challenge is certainly political, but it's not biased: it's not Republican or Democratic. It's largely parochial, "he said. He referred to the administration's support in the form of a budget amendment calling for an additional US $ 1.6 billion to the Agency for working on Lunar Lands, SLS and other Artemis-related efforts in the 2020 budget year.
He praised the $ 20-30 billions in cost estimates, but proposed international and commercial partnerships could help reduce those costs. "We are learning that there are other people who want to contribute," he said. "They want to invest their own money. Why? Because they want customers who are not NASA. If you have customers who are not part of NASA, our costs will be cut. "
" It's very realistic that it could be well below the $ 20 billion when I specified this original area, "he said, saying that he would accept NASA alone for the cost of the program come up.
NASA still needs to secure the $ 1.6 billion down payment for Artemis in 2020. A budget adopted in June did not include this funding but increased spending on other agency programs, such as science. Bridenstine said that the action of the house was not surprising, as the budget change was published in the same week in which the house owners evaluated their bill.
The lack of house financing is not proof of a lack of support for Artemis. "I've talked to people on both sides of the aisle who are indeed very, very supportive," he said. "The challenge is that they simply did not have time."
He hopes that the Senate will respond to the budget change and that the additional funds for Artemis can be forfeited if the House and the Senate reconcile their separate bills with a conference committee. "The process has just begun. I am confident that this can be achieved. "
However, one area of concern is that fiscal 2020 is expected to begin with a rolling resolution (CR), as has been the case in recent history. Continued decisions to finance agencies at the level of the previous financial year limit the ability to launch new programs unless they have been officially authorized by an "anomaly" against the Czech Republic.
"In this case," said Bridenstine. We need to look at how NASA can get on in some kind of anomaly.
Another major topic for NASA is the crew program, in which Boeing and SpaceX develop vehicles to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station and not rely on the Russian spaceship Soyuz anymore. However, both companies suffered significant delays, and Bridenstine said in an interview that companies may not be ready to ship astronauts before the end of the year as planned.
"I do not want to say anything about whether or not we will complete this flight this year," he said. "I honestly do not know at the moment."
This comment was far less confident than what Bridenstine said two days earlier at the Future Space 2019 conference when he mentioned SpaceX's unmanned test flight of his Crew Dragon spaceship in March. It's a monumental achievement, showing a commitment for a very long time to bring American astronauts back into space with American rockets from American soil, and we will do so this year. "
" We're fast on these missions Realizing it, "he said in an interview, noting that it is still possible to start test flights with crew this year. "I want to make sure that we are sure that these vehicles are safe before I continue with the start date."
SpaceX had to accept the loss of spacecraft Crew Dragon in April, preparing for a crash test in flight. Both the company and the agency were criticized for their lack of openness in the ongoing investigations into this incident, and Bridenstine swore that the process would work differently in the future.
"Most of this criticism comes from me as well," he said. It was pointed out that SpaceX did not communicate immediately after the accident. "That can not happen again."
Bridenstine said that now a new process of communication has been set up in case of another mishap. "In a few hours, we will be holding a press conference and making as much information as possible available to the public as soon as possible."
Updating the flight plans for commercial crew test flights, according to Bridenstine, will be another task for the new one Head of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission, which deals with general cost and timetable issues. "We are committed to the commercial crew. We have to make it, "he said.