Bridenstine Close to Choosing Gerstenmaier’s Replacement

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After Months, The Vacuum at the Head of Human Space Flight Must Be Filled

In July, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine removed William Gerstenmaier from his post as head of Human Space Flight. In the interval since then and now, nobody at NASA announced a permanent replacement. Gerstenmaier’s former position oversees all of NASA’s human spaceflight activities. That includes ISS, commercial crew, and Artemis lunar missions. On Friday, however, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel expressed concerns. They implied Bridenstine wasn’t moving quickly enough to fill the vacuum left in Gerstenmaier’s waste. The meeting took place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA photo of William Gerstenmaier

William Gerstenmaier

“It is important to recognize the sense of uncertainty that accompanies a vacuum in a key leadership position, and address the need for stable and credible direction for the future,” panel chair Patricia Sanders said. “NASA personnel are continuing to move forward and progress on the programs of record. It’s in their DNA. But having positive confirmation of the specific direction from a permanent leader is imperative. And a sense of uncertainty should not be allowed to linger during this critical time.”

Bridenstine’s Response

Bridenstine’s office disagreed with the idea of a vacuum, citing that Gerstenmaier’s interim replacement, Ken Bowersox, who’s been calling the shots since the shakeup. The source also said that Bridenstine is “close” to hiring someone to permanently replace Gerstenmaier.  

A Quicker than “Usual” Pace

Though members of the panel and Sanders expressed concerns about permanent leadership, the tone of the meeting was not all negative. In fact, one member, George Nield—a former FAA official—remarked about the uptick in tempo, particularly regarding Artemis.  “I was particularly impressed with the kinds of things that NASA is doing to position the Artemis program for success,” he commented. “The number of synopses, requests for information, draft and final requests for proposals that NASA has put out in the last six months is really impressive. That is quite a procurement pace, and it is certainly not indicative of business as usual schedules.”

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

It shouldn’t be ignored that Gerstenmaier oversaw those “business as usual schedules” Nield refers to. As I reported when I first covered his departure, he had a reputation for being slow, steady, and methodical. Those are certainly admirable qualities in a leader—especially one you’re trusting to get you to another celestial body and back. If you want to get there fast, though, you need someone a little more speedy. 

Safety First

While the uptick in tempo is commendable, NASA still needs to be careful. Working with private contractors automatically gives you less control over processes and procedures. Whomever Bridenstine chooses will need to decide on a pace that will accomplish each mission with a minimal impact on Astronauts’ health and safety. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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