NASA Targets June Merger of Operations, Exploration Divisions

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WASHINGTON NASA expects by June 5 to combine its Exploration Systems and Space Operations mission directorates into a single organization, dubbed the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, according to internal briefing charts obtained by Space News.

The new organization is expected to better align NASA’s manned spaceflight goals as the U.S. space agency retires its fleet of shuttle orbiters and outsources crew and cargo transportation to and from the international space station to private firms.

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD), would oversee the merged organization, which would manage the international space station and space shuttle programs, commercial crew and cargo activities and the agency’s new Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle initiatives, among others, according to charts presented to agency officials during a Feb. 22 meeting.

Doug Cooke, currently associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD), would serve as Gerstenmaier’s deputy, the charts show, although in February Cooke announced plans to leave the agency. “Doug Cooke announced that he will retire from NASA following the successful merger of the Space Operations Mission Directorate and ESMD,” NASA spokesman Michael Braukus said in a Feb. 25 e-mail. “The exact date of his retirement is to be determined.”

SOMD Deputy Administrator Lynn Cline would become deputy associate administrator for policy and plans under Gerstenmaier, while Cooke’s deputy, Laurie Leshin, would become deputy associate administrator for program strategy, the document shows.

John Olson, who directed the Human Exploration Framework Team that examined options for a new human spaceflight architecture, would serve as head of strategic analysis in the new organization, reporting to Gerstenmaier’s office. Cline would head mission services as acting director until a permanent lead is appointed, and Toni Mumford, who currently serves as chief of SOMD’s Resources, Management and Analysis, would continue in that role under the merger.

Divisions within the new directorate would include: the International Space Station, led by Mark Uhran, who currently serves as assistant associate administrator for the program; Commercial Human Spaceflight, to be run on an acting basis by Phil McAlister, commercial crew planning lead at NASA headquarters here, until a permanent division chief is named; Human Spaceflight Research & Capabilities, to be led by Benjamin Neumann, director of the Advanced Capabilities Division currently housed in ESMD; Advanced Exploration Systems, to be led by Leshin until a new director is installed; Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, led by Dan Dumbacher, chief of the engineering directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; Space Communications and Navigation, which would continue to be led by Badri Younes; Space Shuttle, to be led by William Hill; and Launch Services, currently run by Jim Norman.

According to the briefing charts, NASA expects to hold an all-hands meeting in late March to gather input from SOMD and ESMD employees. Formal notification of the merger plan would be presented to the White House Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Congress for approval April 20-22, with an estimated merger date of June 5, the charts show.

Gerstenmaier and Cooke raised the possibility of the merger in a Dec. 20 memo to agency employees in which they said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asked them to produce a plan by early 2011 for combining the two organizations.

“With the upcoming retirement of the Space Shuttle and the likely transition away from the Constellation Program, planning is underway that could lead to NASA’s Space Operations and Exploration Systems Mission Directorates merging to create a new directorate to manage the integrated human spaceflight portfolio for the Agency,” they wrote.