Kathy Lueders named NASA chief of human spaceflight


Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, watches the docking of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station on May 31 with NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken on-board. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Two weeks after the successful launch of two astronauts to the International Space Station, the director of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has been promoted to chief of the agency’s human spaceflight directorate, a portfolio that includes the Artemis moon program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Friday.

Kathy Lueders will assume the post immediately. Her deputy, Steve Stich, will take over management of the Commercial Crew Program while former shuttle commander Ken Bowersox, the acting head of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, will resume his role as deputy associate administrator.

“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,” Bridenstine said in a statement.

“She has a deep interest in developing commercial markets in space, dating back to her initial work on the space shuttle program. From Commercial Cargo and now Commercial Crew, she has safely and successfully helped push to expand our nation’s industrial base.”

He said Lueders is “the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we’ve been given.”

Lueders appointment as HEO associate administrator is the latest development in a turbulent year for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, charged with executing the Trump administration’s accelerated plan to land astronauts on the moon by the end of 2024.

As the name implies, the HEO chief also is responsible for space station operations as well as the Commercial Crew Program and long-range planning for astronaut flights to Mars.

Last July, NASA’s long-time HEO chief, William Gerstenmaier, was removed from the post, ostensibly to bring a fresh perspective to Artemis program management. His replacement, Douglas Loverro, was named the following October.

Loverro, in turn, unexpectedly announced his resignation May 19, reportedly because of issues involving contract awards for Artemis moon landers.

Lueders joined NASA in 1992. After a stint at the agency’s White Sands, New Mexico, test facility, she moved to the International Space Station program and eventually led NASA’s commercial resupply initiative. She took over as acting Commercial Crew Program manager in 2013 and was selected to run the office in 2014.

Under her leadership, SpaceX and Boeing developed spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station on a more purely commercial basis than in the past in a bid to end NASA’s sole reliance on Russian for basic space transportation.

SpaceX led the way May 30 with launch of NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for a test flight to the space station. Launch of a second, operational mission, this one with four astronauts, is expected in the September timeframe.

Boeing ran into problems last year during an unpiloted test of its CST-100 Starliner capsule and plans a second uncrewed test flight this fall. The first piloted test flight of the Boeing capsule is expected next spring.

Against that backdrop, Lueders now will oversee NASA’s on-going work to test the Artemis program’s giant Space Launch System booster and Orion crew capsule, along with development of new moon landers and a small lunar space station.

“This is such a critical time for the agency and for HEO,” Bridenstine said. “We still need to bring Doug and Bob home safely and we’re not going to lose focus. We have our sights set on the moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there.”