NASA shake-up in new race to the moon

Module of the Apollo 11 space mission in lunar orbit

Module of the Apollo 11 space mission in lunar orbit on 21 July 1969. Image AFP NASA

NASA has replaced the head of its human space exploration directorate in a major shake-up, U.S. media reported on Wednesday, as the agency scrambles to meet President Donald Trump's ambitious deadline to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. "In an effort to meet this problem, I've determined to make management changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate".

The American plan to return humans to the moon, including the first woman, is beset with delays and cost overruns, according to an official audit released last month.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier and deputy associate administrator Bill Hill have been reassigned within the agency.

Effective suddenly, Bridenstine wrote in a letter to company workers, Ken Bowersox, a five-flight shuttle veteran, space station astronaut and Gerstenmaier's deputy, will take over on an acting basis while Gerstenmaier serves as "special advisor" to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.

They'll be joined by UM associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering Sue Lepri and Cranbrook Institute of Science head of astronomy Michael Narlock. The Trump administration has requested $1.6 billion in supplemental funding for NASA's 2020 budget to help kick start Artemis development.

Gerstenmaier was ousted from his role hours after he testified before Congress on the future of the International Space Station and plans for low-Earth orbit. "We are building for the long term, and this time are going to the Moon to stay".

He has been with the agency since 1977, led some of its most high profile programs and was the head of the human exploration office in a 14-year tenure. The White House asked for the money to be taken out of a surplus in the Pell Grant program, which provides financial aid to college students. Mark Sirangelo, who was recently hired to helm a new "Moon to Mars" directorate at NASA, resigned after just one month of working at the agency, and NASA chose to scrap plans for the new division altogether. After completing the exploration of the Moon, the two astronauts went back to the command and service module.

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