WASHINGTON – In a move that has surprised most people in the space industry, NASA has included two senior officials in its exploration program, including Bill Gerstenmaier, the long-time director of NASA's human spaceflight programs.
In a Memo At the end of July, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, had been appointed as a special assistant to Assistant NASA Administrator Jim Morhard. The reassignment took effect immediately. Bridenstine said that Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who had rejoined the agency earlier this year as Alternate of Gerstenmaier, would take over as Deputy Associate Administrator.
Also reassigned was Bill Hill, who had been Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Now a special Advisor to Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk. Tom Whitmeyer will act as Deputy Assistant Administrator.
Bridenstein's memo contained few details of why he replaced Gerstenmaier and Hill. "As you know, NASA has been challenged to bring the first woman and man to the moon by 2024, with the goal of sending people to Mars," he wrote. "To meet this challenge, I have decided to make changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) mission."
Employee placement in "Special Advisor" positions is usually considered a downgrade for those who can not stop immediately. These positions have few, if any, responsibilities, and those reassigned as special advisers usually leave the agency shortly thereafter.
The timing of reassignments was the most surprising within and outside the agency. Bridenstine, speaking here at the Future Space 201
Gerstenmaier also gave no indication of a reallocation when he testified before July 10 before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science Committee for commercial activities on the International Space Station. His testimony and general hearing focused on NASA's announced orbitalization commercialization strategy in June.
Some speculated that the reallocations are the result of displeasure on the part of the Authority and possibly the White House leadership in the development of the Artemis Lunar Program and its key elements, the space launch system and the Orion spacecraft.
"The President has instructed NASA and Administrator Jim Bridenstine to achieve this goal by all means necessary," said Vice President Mike Pence in a March speech announcing the Lunar Landing Goal for 2024. "You must consider all available options and platforms to achieve our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space company."
Gerstenmaier, who joined NASA in 1977 as an engineer at the Lewis Research Center (now the Glenn Research Center). in Cleveland, later took on management positions in the Shuttle and ISS programs before becoming associate administrator for space operations in 2005. He became Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations in 2011, when NASA merged its Exploration and Space Operations Directorates.
Gerstenmaier, or "Gerst," has gained almost universal admiration and recognition for his leadership qualities and expertise in the industry, and has been frequently invited by Congress to testify about NASA's aerospace activities. "He is regularly heard when it comes to testifying to us," said MP Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Chair of the House's Subcommittee on Space, in an opening speech at the July 10 hearing. "We look forward to seeing you again and appreciate that you are here when we consider these important issues."
"Can not exaggerate the importance of barley for NASA in recent decades," tweeted Garrett Reisman a former NASA astronaut who later worked at SpaceX and is now a professor at the University of Southern California , "He was the glue that kept NASA and Congress moving after Constellation. Once I told him he was the only single-point flaw in the Human Spaceflight program. "
However, he praised Bowersox, another former astronaut who also worked at SpaceX. "I have great respect for him," he wrote. "He is a man of integrity who will serve NASA well."