Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's commercial crew program, celebrates the successful docking of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station May 31. NASA named her as associate administrator for human exploration and operations June 12. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected the longtime manager of its commercial crew program to be the next head of its overall human spaceflight efforts.

NASA announced June 12 that Kathy Lueders will take over as associate administrator for human exploration and operations, effectively immediately. Lueders, the first woman to hold that post, had been manager of the commercial crew program at the agency since 2014.

“Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an agency statement announcing the move.

He cited in particular her experience managing the commercial crew effort, including the successful launch of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission with two NASA astronauts on board May 30. “Kathy’s the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we’ve been given,” he said.

Lueders joined NASA in 1992 at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico to work on the shuttle program. She later joined the International Space Station program and, as the station’s transportation integration manager, oversaw commercial cargo services as well as NASA oversight of spacecraft from ISS partners.

She took over as acting manager of NASA’s commercial crew program in 2013 when the previous manager, Ed Mango, stepped down after being charged with improperly influencing a matter involving a colleague in which he had a financial interest, a charge he later pleaded guilty to. Lueders took the commercial crew manager position on a permanent basis in 2014.

Lueders oversaw the development of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft as well as Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. That included the successful Demo-2 launch May 30, the success of which she celebrated while keeping in mind the big picture. “I am so grateful and proud of our NASA and SpaceX team,” she said at a post-launch briefing that day. “We’re going to stay vigilant until we bring them safely home.”

Lueders is the fourth person in the last 12 months to hold the position of associate administrator for human exploration and operations, which includes commercial crew, the ISS and exploration systems. Bill Gerstenmaier, who held the post since it was established in 2011 through the merger of NASA’s exploration and space operations directorates, was reassigned to a special adviser position last July. Ken Bowersox, his deputy, took over as acting associate administrator.

NASA announced in October that it had hired Doug Loverro to be the new associate administrator, a position he started in December. Loverro, though, abruptly resigned May 19, reportedly at the request of the administrator amid claims he violated procurement regulations during the selection process for the Human Landing System lunar lander program. Bowersox again became acting associate administrator.

While it took NASA several months to find a replacement for Gerstenmaier, agency officials said earlier this month they would move more quickly to select a successor to Loverro. “Our goal is to have a new AA [associate administrator] named within weeks, not months,” NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said during a June 1 webinar.

With Lueders’ selection as associate administrator for human exploration and operations, Bowersox will return to his position as deputy associate administrator. Steve Stich, who had been deputy manager of the commercial crew program, will succeed Lueders as manager of that program.

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...