NASA's human spaceflight lead resigns days before Crew Dragon launch

Doug Loverro had only been in the role for half a year.

NASA/Josh Valcarcel

NASA’s return to US-based crew launches will take place under less-than-ideal circumstances. The agency has revealed that its associate administrator for human exploration, Doug Loverro, has resigned as of May 18th — nine days before Crew Dragon’s first voyage with humans aboard. He’s also leaving less than half a year after taking the role. NASA didn’t say what prompted the departure, but SpaceNews sources claimed there was a disagreement between Loverro and administrator Jim Bridenstine over the nature of the exploration program. Ars Technica heard it might stem from the lunar spacecraft bidding process that saw Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics win contracts.

In an all-hands email, Loverro reportedly told NASA staff that he made a “mistake” earlier in 2020 that he initially thought was “necessary to fulfill our mission.” He didn’t explain what that mistake was. NASA hired Loverro in October to replace Bill Gerstenmaier after leaders were unhappy with the speed of developing exploration technology needed to achieve the Artemis program’s goal of a 2024 Moon landing.

Former astronaut Ken Bowersox will serve as the acting associate administrator, a role he took when Gerstenmaier was ousted from his position.

This shouldn’t affect NASA’s plans in the short term. Bowersox is a leadership veteran, including as commander on the International Space Station. However, this tumult is coming at what might be the worst possible time. NASA is just beginning a new phase of human spaceflight, and losing its overseer for that effort casts doubt (whether founded or not) on its ability to follow through.