Douglas Loverro, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) has quit after less than six months in the post and less than two weeks before SpaceX are due to launch humans to the ISS.
Loverro's predecessor, William Gerstenmaier, lasted 14 years in the role before reassignment. Gerstenmaier went on to join SpaceX earlier this year.
Back then, former astronaut Ken Bowersox picked up the reins in the interim and Bowersox, Loverro's deputy, has been put in charge once again.
The timing is jaw-dropping. The first commercial crew launch is due on 27 May, and Loverro was to have taken part in tomorrow's flight readiness review for the mission.
The reasons for Loverro's departure are unclear, and The Register has contacted the US space agency to learn more and will update if NASA responds. Certainly, there was no obvious indication that he was about to fall on his sword. His social media orifices were positively spurting with Artemis excitement, as one would expect, up until 18 May.
In a letter to the HEO team leaked to the Washington Post, Loverro admitted to a mistake made in a choice earlier in the year, taken "because I judged it necessary to fulfil our mission." The result was a resignation from the agency, effective 18 May.
The move blindsided agency insiders and lawmakers alike. Member of the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Kendra Horn, expressed significant unease at the turn of events, so close to the SpaceX Demo-2 launch.
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. https://t.co/27pJgSaPXn— Congresswoman Kendra Horn (@RepKendraHorn) May 19, 2020
Firing up the speculatogun, there are any number of choices made during Loverro's short time in the post that might have come back to bite him, particularly as he sought to push the agency forward to that 2024 Moon landing goal. He was recently involved in the decision to select three commercial companies, SpaceX, Dynetics and Blue Origin, to land humans on the lunar surface and in April tweeted his satisfaction at Boeing's decision to re-fly its Calamity Capsule.
"Corporate responsibility," he said back then, "takes many forms, and this is one of them."
As, it appears, does responsibility in public service. ®