At pivotal points in human spaceflight, NASA undergoes major reorganization

At pivotal points in human spaceflight, NASA undergoes major reorganization

The body of NASA tasked with managing human spaceflight is being split into two distinct directorates, the agency’s chief announced on Tuesday, embarking on a major reorganization that past officials have tried and failed to execute for years. The move comes as private companies like SpaceX demonstrate leaner methods of putting people in space and as NASA pushes ahead with ambitious plans to build settlements on the surface of the Moon in the next decade.

The breakup of NASA’s human exploration wing, called Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, will spawn two new bodies: first, the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, which will manage NASA’s most ambitious development programs like the Artemis program that are still in formative and testing phases. The second will be the Space Operations Mission Directorate, which will handle more routine, operational programs like the International Space Station and the Commercial Crew Program. Agency officials say categorizing programs based on levels of development rather than areas of expertise will help refine NASA’s focus.

The organizational shakeup was a “strong” recommendation from President Biden’s transition team, Nelson told reporters during a press conference on the changes. One major advantage of the change involves NASA’s budgeting process, which is often fraught with complexity and frequently faces pushback from members of Congress who complain NASA doesn’t provide enough clarity on its exploration plans. With the broad human exploration program now split in two, complex and sometimes ambiguous programs won’t be as intermixed with NASA’s more routine programs. And the two bodies will have separate leaders rather than a single official whose workload has seen steep growth in recent years.

“Two heads are better than one,” Kathy Lueders, the current head of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said during a town hall in Washington, DC, with the agency’s workforce on Tuesday. Lueders, who previously led NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, will move from her post as human spaceflight chief to helm the Space Operations Mission Directorate. Jim Free, a former deputy associate administrator who held senior roles in NASA’s Orion capsule program, will lead the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

But not everyone in the space industry will be happy with the change. Lueders, seen by many as a champion for commercial space because of her experience leading the Commercial Crew Program during its formative years, won’t be as involved in the agency’s biggest development programs like Artemis anymore. Critics of the reorganization are also likely to see it as more red tape and a new burden of coordination between the two offices that will have to stay in touch on related space programs.

“We’re actually not adding a whole new layer of people,” NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy told reporters after the town hall, addressing critiques of the move. “There are very few additional positions that will be required… the challenges that we have in coordinating across organizations is exactly the same as it is today.”…Read more>>