According to reports, NASA is dividing its human spaceflight department into two parts, one centered on big, future-oriented missions to the moon and Mars and another on operations aboard the International Space Station and on the surface closer to earth.
According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the reorganisation was revealed on Tuesday. This reflects a changing relationship between the federal agency and private companies like SpaceX that have increasingly monetized rocket travel.
A recent explosion of flights and commercial investment in low-Earth orbit has spurred the shift, according to Nelson, even as NASA steps up its research on deep-space aspirations.
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“Today is more than organizational change,” Nelson said at a press briefing. “It’s setting the stage for the next 20 years, it’s defining NASA’s future in a growing space economy.”
NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, now led by Kathy Leuders. They will split into two separate branches as a result of the move.
Earth by SpaceX
As head of the new Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, Leuders will maintain her associate administrator title while focusing on NASA’s most ambitious long-term initiatives. Such as the plans to send astronauts back to the moon under Project Artemis and to eventually send humans to Mars.
James Free, a retired NASA deputy associate administrator who was important in the agency’s space station. And commercial crew and cargo projects will take on a new job as director of the Space Operations Mission Directorate.
His branch will be in charge of more routine launch and spaceflight activities. Including missions to the Space Station and the privatisation of low-Earth orbit. As well as the maintenance of lunar operations once those are in place.
“This approach with two areas focused on human spaceflight allows one mission directorate to operate in space while the other builds future space systems,” NASA said in a press release announcing the move.
An all-civilian crew launched and successfully returned to Earth by SpaceX less than a week ahead of the announcement. SpaceX had already flown multiple astronaut missions and cargo payloads to the Space Station for NASA.