Doug Loverro, the NASA official responsible for human spaceflight programs, left the agency May 18 after less than six months on the job.
In a May 19 statement, NASA said that Loverro resigned from his position as associate administrator for human exploration and operations effective May 18.
Ken Bowersox, Loverro’s deputy, will serve as acting associate administrator. A NASA spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the reasons for Loverro’s resignation, but industry sources say that Loverro and Bridenstine disagreed over aspects of the exploration program.
Loverro, who previously worked at the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and launches military satellites, said he was leaving the agency “with a very, very heavy heart” after making some “mistake” during his tenure, according to a letter to the workforce obtained by POLITICO.
“Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks,” Loverro wrote. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission.
Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences. “
“My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we accomplished together,” he continued.
Reached by phone, Loverro declined to offer specifics about his “mistake,” but said his departure is not due to a disagreement with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine or any safety concerns about next week’s launch.
NASA announced last October that it was hiring Loverro to that the position that had been held for years by Bill Gerstenmaier. NASA reassigned Gerstenmaier to a special adviser position in July because agency leadership was dissatisfied with the pace of development of exploration systems needed to meet the White House’s goal of a 2024 lunar landing.
Loverro came to NASA after a long career in national security space. From 2013 until his retirement in 2017 he served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. Before that, he was executive director of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and deputy program executive officer for space.
In a SpaceNews interview in December, shortly after starting work at NASA, Loverro said Bridenstine approached him about the job. “I mean, it’s the dream of a lifetime,” he said of the job, saying he was inspired to pursue a career in space by the Space Race in the 1960s. “How can anybody who cares anything about space not go ahead and jump at the opportunity to put women and men back on the moon?”
NASA argues that the change will not affect the program or the mission. “We have full confidence in the work [program manager] Kathy Lueders and her entire Commercial Crew team have done to bring us here,” NASA’s memo states. “This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.”
Doug Loverro’s statement
On December 2nd of last year, day 1856 in my pin count, it was my privilege to become your Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. That was a time before we were in the final count for the first crewed flight from American soil in nearly a decade; before we brought on board three industry partners to propel our lunar dreams and ambitions; before we took on the task to reorganize ourselves for the future and the adventures that lay ahead; before COVID-19 and endless hours of telework that would test our spirit yet prove our mettle; and before we knew for sure that we could fulfill the promise we made to the nation to meet its 2024 goal. But now, a mere 168 days later, all those things are no longer in doubt.
The day I joined NASA and this very special directorate was one of incredible joy for me and my family. I was humbled by the confidence that had been placed in me by the Administrator and honored by your acceptance of this new unknown leader from the outside. Over the past short six months as you have come to know me, I have come to know you too – I now can count many of you as not just co-workers, but, truly, as friends. It has been the pleasure of a lifetime. I want to let you now that I had truly looked forward to living the next four-plus years with you as we returned Americans to the surface of the moon and prepared for the long journey beyond. But that is not to be.
Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks. Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description. The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences. And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18th, 2020.
I want to be clear that the fact that I am taking this step has nothing to do with your performance as an organization nor with the plans we have placed in motion to fulfill our mission. If anything, your performance and those plans make everything we have worked for over the past six months more attainable and more certain than ever before. My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.
While there are no guarantees of success, I know, and agency leadership knows, that you are in the best position we have ever been to accomplish our goals. The plan we have placed in motion, the new HEO organizational structure we are putting in place, and the leadership team we have brought on board all give us the opportunity to show again just what the people at NASA can do – and it will inspire the nation just we have before.
I cannot say what happens next. That will be for others to decide. What I can tell you is that you have a team of extraordinary leaders in Ken Bowersox, Toni Mumford, and all the other DAAs and seniors in HEO. I can also tell you that HEO is populated by a host of HERO’es, some publicly acknowledged but many just performing every day. I know that together you will make the impossible happen. And that in just over four years from now, I will look up at the sky, and see the moon rise for the first time in this century, secure in the knowledge that Americans are there to stay.
To the Moon, Mars, and the Stars Beyond
Message Regarding the Lead of Human Spaceflight
Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Doug Loverro has resigned from his position effective Monday, May 18.
Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA. His leadership of HEO has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024. Loverro has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and we thank him for his service and contributions to the agency.
Effective immediately, Ken Bowersox will serve as Acting Associate Administrator for HEO. Bowersox, currently the Deputy Associate Administrator for HEO, is a retired U.S. Naval Aviator with more than two decades of experience at NASA. He is an accomplished astronaut and a veteran of five space shuttle missions and commander on the International Space Station. Bowersox has previously led HEO in a time of transition, and NASA has the right leadership in place to continue making progress on the Artemis and Commercial Crew programs.
Next week will mark the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight with the launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. We have full confidence in the work Kathy Lueders and her entire Commercial Crew team have done to bring us here. This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.