On Tuesday, NASA announced that its chief of human spaceflight had resigned from the space agency. The timing of Doug Loverro’s departure is terrible, with NASA’s first launch of humans in nearly nine years due to occur in just eight days.
The space agency offered a bland statement regarding Loverro’s resignation as Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) at NASA.
“Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Doug Loverro has resigned from his position effective Monday, May 18,” the statement said. “Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA. His leadership of HEO has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024. Loverro has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and we thank him for his service and contributions to the agency.”
Loverro’s resignation set off a firestorm of speculation after it was announced. He was due to chair a Flight Readiness Review meeting on Thursday to officially clear SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first flight of humans to the International Space Station. The final go or no-go decision for that mission was to be his. That launch is presently scheduled for May 27.
However, his departure does not seem to be directly related to his work on Crew Dragon. Rather it seems to stem from the recent process during which NASA selected three bids—led by Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX—from among five bidders. In an email to the human exploration staff at NASA on Tuesday, Loverro admitted that he made a mistake earlier this year.
“Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description,” Loverro wrote. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences. And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18th, 2020.”
Sources at NASA headquarters, where Loverro was generally liked and respected, were devastated on Tuesday by the news. Loverro arrived at NASA only a half-year ago, replacing NASA’s longstanding chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, who was moving too slowly on the agency’s Artemis Moon plan. Loverro has been fully committed to the space agency’s goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024.
In its statement, NASA said former astronaut Ken Bowersox would fulfill Loverro’s role.
“Effective immediately, Ken Bowersox will serve as Acting Associate Administrator for HEO. Bowersox, currently the Deputy Associate Administrator for HEO, is a retired US Naval Aviator with more than two decades of experience at NASA,” the statement said. “He is an accomplished astronaut and a veteran of five space shuttle missions and commander on the International Space Station. Bowersox has previously led HEO in a time of transition, and NASA has the right leadership in place to continue making progress on the Artemis and Commercial Crew programs.”
Loverro’s resignation caught almost everyone by surprise. Wayne Hale, who chairs a NASA advisory committee which hosted Loverro just last week, said he did not see this coming. But Hale expressed confidence in Bowersox. “Ken Bowersox is fully capable of chairing a Flight Readiness Review,” Hale told Ars. “His experience and judgement make him exceptionally well placed to act at this critical time.”