With a new job lined up with a local contractor, Steve Cook, manager of NASA’s Ares Project Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., announced his resignation Aug. 27, ending a 19-year career with the U.S. space agency. NASA headquarters spokesman Grey Huataluoma confirmed Cook’s planned departure Aug. 28.

As director of the Ares Program Office since its inception in 2005, Cook oversees Marshall’s development of the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle and the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket central to NASA’s five-year-old plan for sending astronauts to the Moon by 2020. 

Cook’s resignation comes at an uncertain time for Ares and the Moon-bound Constellation program in general.

In May, the White House tasked a blue-ribbon panel with reviewing NASA’s manned spaceflight plans and providing a range of options for the future. The panel, which briefed White House officials Aug. 14, found that Ares 1 and its Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle are not likely to debut before 2017 — two years beyond NASA’s targeted operational date.

Cook will assume his new post as director of space technologies at Huntsville-based government contractor Dynetics on Sept. 14, according to his Aug. 27 resignation announcement to the Ares team. Teresa Vanhooser will become acting Ares manager effective Aug. 31.