“We have technologies that exist today that had to be invented back in the ’60s. We don’t have to invent technologies today to make this work,” said Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, contradicting the assessment NASA made in its review of the proposals. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — A planned reorganization of the NASA mission directorate responsible for human spaceflight programs has been put on hold after its leader abruptly resigned last month.

During a June 1 webinar by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said that a reorganization of the agency’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate will be delayed until after the agency hires a successor to Doug Loverro, who left the agency May 19.

Loverro, who took over as associate administrator for human exploration and operations last December, had been working to restructure the directorate, which is responsible for the International Space Station, commercial crew, and exploration programs like the Space Launch System and Orion. That restructuring had not been completed before Loverro’s sudden resignation amid reports he violated procurement regulations during the selection process for the Human Landing System lunar lander program.

NASA had not disclosed what those changes entailed. Craig Kundrot, director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division, said at an advisory committee meeting in early April that the changes included moving his division from HEO to the Science Mission Directorate. “Look, however, for changes in the HEO structure coming in the near term, in probably a matter of weeks,” he said at that April 1 meeting.

Jurczyk said that any reorganization will be left to Loverro’s successor. “We’ve put the HEO reorganization on hold. We believe it’s important for the new AA [associate administrator] to come in and take a look at the organization and the programs, and make sure that where we were headed is the right structure for the new AA, and then make adjustments to the proposed reorganization.”

He said NASA was “actively” looking for a successor to Loverro. “Our goal is to have a new AA named within weeks, not months,” he said. “It’s really important to the organization and it’s really important for Artemis and all the programs.”

It took NASA more than three months to announce it hired Loverro, which agency officials said was the outcome of an extensive search after reassigning longtime associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier to a senior adviser position in July 2019. While NASA announced hiring Loverro in mid-October, he did not start work until the beginning of December.

During the nearly five-month gap between Gerstenmaier’s reassignment and Loverro starting work, the HEO directorate was led on an acting basis by deputy associate administrator Ken Bowersox. He is again serving as acting associate administrator since Loverro’s departure.

Jurczyk used the webinar to provide a broad overview of agency activities, including how the coronavirus pandemic had affected many programs not considered essential. He said monthly reviews of major agency programs have recently focused on impacts from the pandemic, rather than assessing how those programs were following cost and schedule baselines set before the pandemic.

That includes, he said, discussing those cost and schedule impacts on programs to congressional appropriators, who will start work on fiscal year 2021 spending bills by July. “We won’t have it all, definitely,” he said of the effects of the pandemic on agency programs, “but we’ll have a good handle on it, given what’s happened and our projections what’s going to happen going forward.”

Jurczyk cited past comments by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who reassured agency employees that it’s unlikely that Congress will cut NASA’s budget in the next fiscal year. It’s not clear, though, that Congress will go along with the nearly $3 billion increase sought by the agency for 2021.

“Getting to an appropriations law every year is very challenging, and this year will be extremely challenging given COVID-19,” he said.

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...