Bob Cabana (right), seen here at an April 21 press conference for the Crew-2 mission, will become associate administrator May 17, succeeding the retiring Steve Jurczyk (left). Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

WASHINGTON — Bob Cabana, a former astronaut and longtime head of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will become NASA associate administrator later this month, replacing the retiring Steve Jurczyk.

In separate announcements May 10, NASA said that Jurczyk will retire from the agency effective May 14. Cabana will take over as associate administrator, the top civil service position at the agency, May 17.

Jurczyk has been associate administrator since May 2018. He served as the agency’s acting administrator from Jan. 20 to May 3, when Bill Nelson was sworn into office as administrator. Jurczyk spent 32 years at NASA, including time as director of the Langley Research Center and associate administrator for space technology.

“It has been an honor to lead NASA and see the agency’s incredible growth and transformation throughout my time here,” Jurczyk said in a statement about his retirement. “I am so fortunate to have been a member of the NASA family.”

Cabana, a U.S. Navy test pilot, joined NASA as an astronaut in 1985. He flew on four shuttle missions from 1990 through 1998, including commanding STS-88, the first shuttle mission devoted to the assembly of the International Space Station. He was later deputy director of the Johnson Space Center and director of the Stennis Space Center before being named to lead KSC in 2008.

Cabana has been widely heralded for leading a transformation of KSC after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, converting the center into a “multi-user spaceport” with tenants such as Blue Origin, Boeing and SpaceX. “This transition was not easy, but it was mandatory,” he said at a Space Transportation Association webinar May 6. “It was an iterative process. We had this vision, and we got the team to buy into the vision and own it.”

“Under his leadership, Kennedy has emerged as a modern, world-class multi-user spaceport, partnering with commercial customers and supporting NASA’s science and human exploration missions,” Nelson said of Cabana in a statement. “Bob is the real deal — he has the vision and management skills to bring NASA to even higher heights.”

Cabana offered no hints during the webinar of a potential change in jobs, but praised Nelson, citing his appearance as a senior leadership meeting the day he was sworn in as administrator. “He talked about how much this meant to him and how much he cares about NASA is doing,” Cabana recalled. “He only talked for a few minutes, but when he got done I felt good for NASA.”

Janet Petro, deputy director of KSC since 2007, will take over as acting director of the center after Cabana departs.

The promotion of Cabana to associate administrator is the latest in a series of management shuffles tied to the new administration and the new administrator. NASA announced May 5 that Susie Perez Quinn, who was chief of staff to Nelson when he was a senator, will be NASA chief of staff. Bhavya Lal, acting NASA chief of staff since the start of the Biden administration in January, is now senior adviser for budget and finance.

“NASA is in a new age of limitless possibilities as we venture out to explore the cosmos,” Nelson said in a memo to NASA employees shortly after being sworn in as administrator last week. “We’re going to land the first woman and person of color on the Moon and, eventually, put American boots on Mars.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...