The sudden departure of William Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's human resources department, late Wednesday is a clear sign that the White House is increasingly frustrated that the agency Trying to bring people back to the surface of the moon by 2024.
The Trump administration is focusing on this date, which re-elects for a second term of the Trump presidency. Despite the mandate, NASA continued to struggle with delays and cost overruns that threatened the program. And the downfall of one of the [ senior stalwarts in the agency shows how far the White House is ready to disrupt NASA and try to break through the bureaucracy that many believe hinders its exploration efforts for years.
] In March, Vice President Pence fired the first warning shot and announced a new, accelerated schedule for NASA's lunar landing plans. Instead of bringing people there by 2028, the new lawsuit would come within five years. He warned NASA leaders that if they could not fulfill the mission, they would be held accountable.
"To achieve this, NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable and agile organization." he said. "If NASA is currently unable to land American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission." Lack of progress on the part of the agency, in particular the large rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS), which NASA has been developing for more than a decade but has not yet flown. White House officials expressed dismay at NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a recent weeks meeting. According to a space industry official who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal consultations.
There have also been tensions between Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier, officials said. For example, Bridenstine had repeatedly stated that he would not cut back on other programs within the agency to fund Artemis' lunar program. But Gerstenmaier contradicted him during an AF meeting and recently said, "We need to look for efficiency gains and make internal cuts to the agency, and that will be difficult," SpaceNews said.
A NASA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The National Space Council declined to comment, but one administration official said, "This was NASA's internal decision, and the statement by Administrator Bridenstine speaks for itself." Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has blasted the decision to abruptly remove someone with Gerstenmaier's tremendous institutional knowledge.
"The Trump Administration's ill-defined crash program should allow land astronauts on the moon in 2024 to be challenging enough under the best of circumstances to achieve this," she said in a statement in the time it seems at best to be misguided. "
However, the White House is keen to make real progress and tired of reports of delays in some of NASA's most critical programs.
For years, the SLS has faced criticism. However, a recent report raised concerns Attention from the White House with its particularly bleak image of the program, officials said ntability Office noted that the cost of the rocket had increased by 30 percent and that the first launch, which was expected in 2017, may not occur until the middle of 2021.
Despite these problems, NASA continued to pay tens of millions of dollars, according to the report t Boeing a "commission" for the evaluation of performance evaluations. Another report highlighted problems with the agency's plan to restore manned space from US soil.
In his speech, Pence also warned Boeing and the other companies she works with, "If our current contractors can not achieve that goal, then we will find those who will.
Space is a top priority for the White House. Exploration is one way to rejuvenate national pride as it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It has also thrown space as a race between superpowers, especially China, which landed a spaceship on the other side of the moon earlier this year, a historic premiere.
Trump has campaigned for a Space Force, a new branch of the military. This would support the Pentagon's efforts to defend the critical orbiting national orbiting satellites that provide soldiers on the battlefield with missile warning, intelligence and communications.
The White House also reassembled the National Space Council and its First Directive at the end of 2017, was a return to the moon.
One and a half years later, however, the White House is unaffected by the agency's progress in achieving that goal. And Gerstenmaier's fall was seen by industry representatives as a means to shake up the agency.
Gerstenmaier first came to NASA in 1977, and his career spanned the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station. More recently, he led the agency's commercial crew program, developing a new generation of spacecraft built by SpaceX and Boeing, and transporting the first NASA astronauts into space from American soil ever since the Space Shuttle resigned in 2011 , He also directed Artemis from the NASA program to bring people back to the moon.
Along the way, "Gerst," as he's been called, has won the trust of many legislators on Capitol Hill, developing NASA's enduring face for international partners and a reputation as a low-key, hard-working agency employee.
His sudden removal was "a shot that did not go over the bow because he hit the bow," an industrial official said. Like some others interviewed for this story, the official talked about the condition of anonymity to discuss internal considerations within NASA and the White House.
"It's a sign for Bridenstine: Bring it together or you're out," the official said. "If Gerst is not sure, no one is – or maybe just the astronauts who are currently on the space station."
The news of Gerstenmaier's move spread in an e-mail that Bridenstine sent to NASA staff on Wednesday night, hours after Gerstenmaier testified, to Capitol Hill during a Space Subcommittee.
"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," Bridenstone wrote I have decided to change the direction of Human Exploration and Operations (HEO). "
He said Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut, would serve as Deputy Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration Office
Bill Hill, who served with Gerstenmaier as Deputy Associate Administrator at the Human Exploration Office, has also been reassigned to become a special advisor to NASA's Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
Thursday morning at a symposium in Ohio in honor of John Glenn appear Bowersox took his place.
He promised that NASA will reach the moon by 2024.
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