'We Need Answers': NASA Head of Human Spaceflight Resigns Days Before First Manned Launch from U.S. In a Decade

NASA's human exploration chief, Douglas Loverro, has resigned effectively immediately—roughly a week before the first manned launch in almost a decade.

For reasons that remain unclear, Loverro cited a "mistake" made earlier in the year for his decision to leave ahead of a May 27 launch to the International Space Station (ISS), in which two astronauts will take off in SpaceX's Crew Dragon craft.

NASA, too, has remained vague, thanking Loverro for his four decades of service while announcing deputy associate administrator Ken Bowersox as his successor.

In a note sent to colleagues at the space agency, Loverro said that his sudden absence would be due to his personal actions, without elaborating in further detail. "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," he wrote.

"I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfil 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 18, 2020," Loverro continued in the note, which was published by SpaceRef.

Until now Loverro had played a key role in key NASA projects, including the Artemis program, which plans to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

According to SpaceFlightNow, his resignation came two days before he was scheduled to chair a crucial readiness review for the May 27 launch, which marks the first time that astronauts will have been sent to the space station from the U.S. since 2011.

It is also a critical venture for Elon Musk's SpaceX. The mission—Demo-2—is the final step before NASA certifies Crew Dragon for operational missions to the space station. It will be led by two veteran NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

In an statement sent to The Washington Post, Loverro rejected any speculation that his resignation was somehow linked to the imminent Crew Dragon flight.

He denied to share additional information, asserting: "It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don't want to characterize it in any more detail than that."

Rep. Kendra Horn, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees NASA, said the resignation of Loverro was disconcerting. The congresswoman tweeted: "I am deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of U.S. astronauts on U.S. 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."

In a subsequent update, Horn added: "We need answers."

The bottom line is that, as the Committee that oversees NASA, we need answers.

— Congresswoman Kendra Horn (@RepKendraHorn) May 19, 2020

The previous head of the exploration program, William Gerstenmaier, was demoted by the agency last year in one high-profile shake-up, and later hired by SpaceX.

NASA announced last month that Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics had been awarded contracts to design and develop human landing systems for the 2024 program.

In its statement, NASA said: "Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA. His leadership of [Human Exploration and Operations] 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."

Douglas Loverro
NASA’s human exploration chief, Doug Loverro (pictured) has resigned from his post effectively immediately roughly a week before a historic space mission. NASA