The Bills: What Does NASA's Leadership Shakeup Mean For Moon Plans?

Auxiliadora Neuquén  Flickr CC BY-SA

In a memo addressed to the space agency's employees, Bridenstine explained that the leadership change is a bid to meet the challenges of the upcoming 2024 moon mission. "It's not just competition against our adversaries, " he said.

Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development within HEO also has been replaced.

Having served at the agency since 1977, Gerstenmaier had been in charge of some of NASA's most high-profile programs and is known as a steady and methodical force inside the halls of NASA's headquarters.

They'll be joined by UM associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering Sue Lepri and Cranbrook Institute of Science head of astronomy Michael Narlock.

Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who had served as the deputy associate administrator for the human exploration office, will take over for Gerstenmaier, according to Bridenstine's email. After completing the exploration of the Moon, the two astronauts went back to the command and service module. Pictured: An Apollo 11 astronaut's footprint in the lunar soil, photographed by a 70 mm lunar surface camera during the Apollo 11 lunar surface extravehicular activity.

"As you already know, NASA has been given a daring challenge to place the first lady and the next guy on the Moon by 2024, with a deal with the last word goal of sending people to Mars", Bridenstine wrote.

"In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate".

In March, Vice President Mike Pence surprised many when he challenged NASA to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, moving up the agency's timeline for a return to the lunar surface by several years. "Removing experienced engineering leadership from that effort and the rest of the nation's human spaceflight programs at such a crucial point in time seems misguided at best".

The Washington Post earlier reported that many NASA employees were seemingly sceptical that the new Moon mission deadline is achievable without slashing other missions.