Congress Seeks Answers on Sudden Resignation of NASA Human Spaceflight Head

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics says she wants answers following the abrupt resignation of NASA’s head of human spaceflight, Douglas Loverro, on the eve of a crucial human flight test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I am deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of US astronauts on US soil in almost a decade. Under this Administration, we’ve seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our efforts at human space flight,” tweeted Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.)

“The bottom line is that, as the Committee that oversees NASA, we need answers,” she added.

Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for the human exploration and operations (HEO), resigned on Monday after less than six months on the job.

In a memo to HEO employees, Loverro cited an unidentified risk he took to further NASA’s human spaceflight goals.

Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks.  Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description.  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.

The unidentified mistake is believed to have involvement procurement for NASA’s Artemis program, whose goal is to land two astronauts on the moon in 2024.

Since Loverro took over the job in early December, NASA has awarded three crucial Artemis contracts. SpaceX won a contract last month to transport supplies and equipment to the lunar Gateway, a small human-tended space station that will orbit the moon and serve as a staging point for visits to the surface.

On April 30, the space agency awarded 10-month study contracts to Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX to refine plans for a lander that will take Artemis astronauts to the lunar south pole.

Prior to those awards, the NASA Office of Inspector General announced on March 25 that it was conducting an audit of the space agency’s “acquisition strategy for the Artemis missions to include landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024.” The audit has not been made public.

Loverro’s resignation came three days before he was to lead a two-day readiness review for the Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station (ISS) by astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley scheduled for May 27.

That job will now be handled by his deputy, five-time space shuttle veteran Ken Bowersox, who has been promoted to take over Loverro’s job on an interim basis.

The goal of the SpaceX vehicle’s first crewed flight is to dock with the space station. Behnken and Hurley will remain aboard the orbiting facility for one to four months before returning on Crew Dragon.

It will be the first crewed flight launched from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in July 2011. U.S. astronauts have been traveling to and from the station on Russian Soyuz transports.

If the flight is successful, the first operational Crew Dragon mission in the fall will carry four astronauts for a long-term stay aboard ISS.