Bill Gerstenmaier, former director of spaceflight at NASA Headquarters and a widely respected aerospace engineer and manager, has taken a consulting position at SpaceX, the California rocket company NASA helped save in 2008 with the award of a $1.6 billion contract to build and launch space station cargo ships.
In a major shakeup at NASA Headquarters, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that Bill Gerstenmaier, the widely respected director of human spaceflight, has been replaced in the midst of an ambitious push to meet the Trump administration’s directive to send astronauts back to the moon within five years.
A senior NASA official said Tuesday that the Space Launch System, a huge heavy-lift rocket years behind schedule, could launch astronauts on a moon landing mission in 2024 on just its third flight to meet a goal announced last month by Vice President Mike Pence, while commercial companies will be entrusted with more responsibility to develop a lunar lander and a modest mini-space station, or Gateway, in lunar orbit.
NASA is sure enough that Boeing and SpaceX can safely launch astronauts to the International Space Station by early 2019 to hold off paying Russia to keep flying U.S. crews to the research complex, and one official says a deadline to order parts for new Russian Soyuz crew capsules may have already passed.
NASA cited the complexity of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane and an uncertainty of when the proposed crew transport craft would be ready to fly astronauts to the International Space Station as the primary reasons the agency picked Boeing and SpaceX for lucrative contracts to develop commercial space taxis.