Home / Science / White house frustration over moon mission delays preceded removal of top NASA official

White house frustration over moon mission delays preceded removal of top NASA official

On Wednesday, William Gerstenmaier was removed from his post as NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Business. (NASA / Bill Ingalls)

The sudden removal of William Gerstenmaier, NASA's human exploration manager, since Wednesday is a clear sign that the White House is becoming increasingly frustrated with the agency's efforts to return people to the Moon's surface in 2024. [19659003] The trump management is laser focused on that date, which would come under a second term by the Trump Presidency, should he be re-elected. But despite the mandate, NASA has continued to struggle with delays and cost overruns that threatened the program. And the anxiety of one of the tallest officers in the agency shows how far the White House is willing to go against disrupting NASA and trying to break through the bureaucracy, which many believe has been doing its exploratory efforts for years. [19659004] In March, Vice President Pence fired the first warning shot and announced a new, faster timeline for NASA's lunar landing plans. Instead of getting people until 2028, he said that the new charge would be within five years. He dismissed NASA leaders and said that if they could not complete the mission, they would be held accountable.

"To achieve this, NASA must transform itself into a narrower, more responsible, and smoother organization," he said. "If NASA is currently unable to land American astronauts on the moon in five years, we must change the organization, not the mission."

Industry officials said that pence and others in the White House have become lively about the agency's lack of progress, especially of the massive rocket called the Space Launch System, or SLS, which NASA has been developing for over a decade, but has not yet fly. White House officials expressed fear of NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine at a recent weeks meeting, according to a space industry official who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.

There had also been excitement between Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier, officials said. Bridenstine had repeatedly said that he would not cut other programs within the agency to finance the lunar program, known as Artemis. But Gerstenmaier opposed him during an advisory meeting and said recently: "We need to look for some efficiency and make some internal cuts to the agency, and that's where it's going to be difficult," he said according to SpaceNews.

A NASA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The National Space Council refused to comment, but an administrative officer said, "This was an internal NASA decision, and administrator Bridenstine's statement speaks for itself."

U.S. Rope. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chair of House Science, Space and Technology, made the decision to suddenly remove someone with Gerstenmaier's enormous institutional knowledge.

"The Trump Administration's insecure crash program land astronauts on the moon in 2024 would be challenging enough to achieve in the best of circumstances," she said in a statement. in time seems disadvantaged at best. "

However, the White House is keen to show real progress, and tired of reports of delays in some of NASA's most critical programs.

For years, SLS has been criticized for being constantly behind the schedule and over the budget. However, a recently reported report took the White House's attention with its particularly cruel picture of the program, officials said. Government Accou ntability Office found that the cost of the rocket had increased by 30 percent and that the first launch, originally expected in 2017, may not happen until mid-2021.

Despite these problems, NASA continued to pay tens of millions of dollars in "pricing charges" "to Boeing to make high performance assessments, the report says. Another report highlights problems with the agency's plan to restore human space flight from the US soil.

In his speech, Pence also adds Boeing and the other companies that work with termination and says: "If our current contractors cannot meet this goal, then we will find those who come".

Space has been a top priority for the White House, which sees exploration as a way to rejuvenate national pride, as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It has also thrown space as a competition between superpowers, especially China, which landed a spacecraft on the reverse side of this year earlier, a historic first.

Trump has driven a space force, a new branch of the military It would strengthen the Pentagon's efforts to defend the critical national security satellites in circulation, providing missile warning, intelligence and communication for soldiers on the battlefield.

The White House also reconstructed the Space Council and its first directive at the end of 2017, was a return to the moon.

A year and a half later, the White House is not impressed by the authority's progress in meeting that goal. And Gerstenmaier's ousters were considered a way to shake up the agency, according to the industry's officials.

Gerstenmaier first came to NASA in 1977 and his career span over the work of the space shuttle program and the International Space Station. More recently, he oversaw the agency's Commercial Crew program, the development of a new generation of spacecraft was built by SpaceX and Boeing who would carry the first NASA astronauts to space from the US ground after the space shuttle retired in 2011. He also led NASA's Artemis program to get people back to the moon.

Meanwhile, "Gerst", as he is known, has gained the trust of many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, been NASA's responsible face for international partners and developed a reputation as a low and hard-working stalwart of the agency.

His sudden removal was "a shot not over the bow because it struck the bow," an industrial official said. Just as many others interviewed for this story, the official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations at NASA and the White House.

"It's a sign of Bridenstine: get it together or you're out," said the official. "If Gerst is not safe, no one – or maybe just the astronauts at the space station at present."

News about Gerstenmaier's deletion broke into an email Bridenstine sent one to NASA employees Wednesday night, hours after Gerstenmaier had testified about Capitol Hill under a space space subcommittee.

"As you know, NASA has been given a bold challenge to put the first woman and the next man on the moon before 2024 focusing on the ultimate goal of sending people to Mars," wrote the bride stine. "In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes in the Directorate of Human Exploration and Operations (HEO)."

He said that Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who had served as an assistant associate administrator of the human exploration office, would take over in a working capacity.

Bill Hill, who had served with Gerstenmaier as assistant associate administrator of the human exploration office, was also redistributed. He will be a special advisor to Steve Jurczyk, NASA's Association Administrator.

Gerstenmaier was scheduled to appear Thursday morning at a symposium in Ohio honoring John Glenn. Bowersox appeared in his place.

He promised that NASA would reach the moon before 2024.

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