WASHINGTON — Steve Jurczyk, a former NASA official who briefly led the agency as acting administrator in 2021 before going into the private sector, died Nov. 23 of cancer. He was 61.

Jurczyk joined NASA in 1988 and rose through the ranks at the Langley Research Center in Virginia, becoming director of the center in 2014. A year later he went to NASA Headquarters as associate administrator for space technology, and in 2018 became associate administrator, the highest-ranking civil service position in the agency. In that role, he led NASA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

He became acting administrator in January 2021 at the start of the Biden administration, serving in that role until the beginning of May, when Bill Nelson was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as administrator. His brief tenure was highlighted by the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars and the first crew rotation of commercial crew vehicles at the International Space Station as Crew-2 relieved Crew-1.

“Steve was a dedicated public servant who spent his career advancing our ability to explore the cosmos,” Nelson said in a social media post.

“Steve was one of the most dedicated civil servants I ever had the honor of serving with,” Mike Gold, chief growth officer at Redwire and a former NASA official who worked with Jurczyk, told SpaceNews. “In particular, NASA faced unprecedented challenges during COVID, and Steve’s tireless efforts and selfless leadership were a large part of why NASA was able to accomplish so much during such a difficult period.  He was an unsung hero of the agency and will be sorely missed.”

Jurczyk retired from NASA in May 2021. He became one of the co-founders of Quantum Space, a startup that announced plans in 2022 to develop robotic platforms in cislunar space. “I wasn’t ready to retire. I wanted to do something else,” he said in a February 2022 interview.

Jurczyk led Quantum Space until June 2023, when he became executive vice president of IBX, a company established by Quantum Space co-founder Kam Ghaffarian whose portfolio includes commercial space station developer Axiom Space and lunar lander company Intuitive Machines.

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...