Long-time Kennedy Space Center director to take job at NASA Headquarters

Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, speaks to employees in 2020. Credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Former space shuttle commander Bob Cabana, who has led NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since 2008, will take a new job in Washington as the space agency’s No. 3 official next week.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Cabana’s appointment as the agency’s associate administrator this week. Cabana will start in his new position Monday, replacing outgoing associate administrator Steve Jurczyk, who has announced his retirement after serving as NASA’s acting administrator until the Senate confirmed Nelson as the new agency head.

“Bob has a relentless determination to expand America’s role in space,” Nelson said in a statement. “Under his leadership, Kennedy has emerged as a modern, world class multi-user spaceport, partnering with commercial customers and supporting NASA’s science and human exploration missions.”

Cabana, 72, will be the senior civil servant at NASA, effectively taking the No. 3 position in the agency’s management structure under Nelson and NASA’s deputy administrator. President Joe Biden has nominated Pam Melroy, another former space shuttle commander, to be NASA’s next deputy administrator.

“Bob is the real deal – he has the vision and management skills to bring NASA to even higher heights,” Nelson said.

“I’m honored to have been selected by Sen. Nelson to serve as associate administrator of NASA,” Cabana said in a statement. “Bill and I have a shared passion for America’s space program, and I look forward to serving NASA and our nation in this new capacity. As much as I am going to miss the incredible team at Kennedy, I can’t wait to take on this new challenge.”

Cabana, a retired Marine Corps colonel and test pilot, was selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps in 1985 and flew on four space shuttle missions, logging 38 days in space. He piloted the STS-41 and STS-53 missions in 1990 and 1992, and commanded the STS-65 and STS-88 missions in 1994 and 1998.

His last spaceflight in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour was the first U.S. mission to assemble the International Space Station, joining the U.S.-built Unity module with the Russian-built Zarya module.

During his tenure at the Kennedy Space Center, Cabana oversaw a team of thousands of government and contractor employees during the final years of the space shuttle program. He led the spaceport through a transition to a new era of commercial spaceflight and managed Kennedy as teams prepared for the Artemis moon program.

The first unpiloted test flight of NASA’s huge Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket could occur before the end of this year, ahead of future crewed lunar missions.

Janet Petro, Cabana’s deputy at Kennedy, will take over as acting director of the space center after Cabana’s departure to NASA Headquarters.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.