Bridenstine and Loverro
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Doug Loverro, new associate administrator for human exploration and operations, talk at a town hall meeting Dec. 3 at NASA Headquarters. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

WASHINGTON — NASA is planning to implement changes in the structure of its human spaceflight directorate in the coming weeks, including moving a scientific research program to another part of the agency.

During an April 1 presentation at an online meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, Craig Kundrot, director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division, said a reorganization of the agency’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate would soon be announced.

Those changes, he said, are the work of Doug Loverro, who took over as the new associate administrator for human exploration and operations four months ago. “He’s bringing a fresh perspective and is now transitioning from learning about the organization to beginning to execute changes,” Kundrot said of Loverro.

Those changes, he said, include unspecified changes in the structure of the directorate, which oversees the International Space Station, commercial crew and cargo programs, and the various elements of the Artemis effort to return humans to the moon, such as the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. “Look, however, for changes in the HEO structure coming in the near term, in probably a matter of weeks,” he said.

Kundrot didn’t go into specifics about those changes other than one: his division will likely be moved out of HEO, where it has been for 15 years, into the Science Mission Directorate. “There’s some important cultural aspects” of such a move, he said, including more closely tying the research done in his division with the agency’s other science divisions.

A reorganization of HEO could also be linked to other changes, such as revisions to the Artemis program that include taking the Gateway out of the “critical path” for a human return to the surface of the moon by 2024. NASA is expected to announce those changes, as well as awards for human lunar lander study contracts, by the middle of April.

Another ongoing issue is the independent review of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the organization that runs the portion of the ISS designated a national laboratory. NASA announced in August 2018 it was initiating that review “to ensure we are on mission and appropriately resourced to produce breakthroughs that improve lives on Earth.” At the time, NASA expected the review to be completed in about four months.

However, more than seven months later, NASA has released neither the independent review nor NASA’s response to it, including the actions it would take to implement any recommendations from the review. Kundrot said at the committee meeting that the agency had expected to have both released by March 31, but delays in coordinating with all the stakeholders because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic meant that the release of the reports has been delayed.

“It’s being actively worked right now. Hopefully it will come out very shortly,” he said of the review and NASA response, possibly “in a matter of days.”

Kundrot credited Loverro for bringing a “fresh perspective” to HEO as an outsider to the agency. Loverro’s career was primarily in national security space before joining NASA late last year. “I’m very pleased with his leadership, his style and how he’s proceeding,” Kundrot said. “He can help HEO improve its execution of missions in new ways because he’s a new person with new leadership skills.”

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...