NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine notified agency employees in a memo late Wednesday that NASA veteran Bill Gerstenmaier would no longer lead the Human Operation and Exploration Mission Directorate.
On the contrary, said Bridenstine, Gerstenmaier will be a special assistant to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.
Gerstenmaier was ousted from his role hours after he testified before Congress about the future of the International Space Station and plans for low-Earth orbit.
In his memoir, Bridenstine said the reassignment was in an effort to fulfill the goal of sending the first man and woman to the moon in the next five years.
He appointed Kenneth Bowersox, a former NASA astronaut who carried out five shuttle flights, as the associate administrator of the new acting.
"(Gerstenmaier) has been at NASA for 42 years and we love him, and in fact, we have the opportunity to land on the Moon in 2024 because of the hard work he has put into the program," Bridenstine told Fox News in an interview published Thursday. "But sometimes we need to remember, he started working at NASA when I was 2 years old, and there were times in every career when it was time to move."
The Washington Post reported that leadership changes occurred when Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials were frustrated by the agency's lack of progress and voiced their complaints to Bridenstine during a recent meeting.
Officials also told the newspaper that there was tension between Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier.
Bridenstine told the Post in an interview Thursday that the decision was his own – not the White House "at all." He also denied any tension between them and told the Post that he considered "very high" from Gerstenmaier.
CNN has contacted Bridenstine's spokesperson.
The top two Democrat House underlines Bridenstine's decision to get rid of Gerstenmaier from his leadership role.
Gerstenmaier began his career with NASA in 1977 doing aviation research. In his long career with the agency, he managed the International Space Station and also directed the safe completion of at least 21 space shuttle missions.
The Democratic Chair of the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology said he was "confused" by Bridenstine's decision to drop Gerstenmaier without a permanent replacement to fill the role.
"The unclear Trump Administration crash program to land astronauts on the Moon in 2024 will be quite challenging to achieve in the best situations," Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas said in a statement. "Removing experienced technical leadership from that effort and other human space programs at crucial points in such times seems to be the most misguided."
Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, chairman of the House's subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, said she was "concerned about the impact of the sudden change in leadership on our human space flight program that might occur" when they were testing Space. Launch the Orion spacecraft and system that will help the crew reach the moon.
Vice President Mike Pence announced in March that the Trump administration wanted to accelerate NASA's plan to reach the moon – launching a mission in 2024 instead of 2028.
"If NASA is currently unable to land American astronauts on the Moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not its mission," Pence said later.
The new timeline gives NASA only five years to acquire the hardware and funds needed.
Bridenstine told CNN Business in June that NASA would need around $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion over the next five years for Artemis's month-long project.
The hardware needed by NASA can be delayed, far exceeding the budget or not yet available.
Artemis's mission can send people to the surface of the moon for the first time in half a century.
Jackie Wattles and Rachel Crane from CNN contributed to this report. Source link