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NASA’s chief of human spaceflight resigns over a “mistake”

Head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, Doug Loverro is resigning from his job at the space agency 6 months after taking the charge. Loverro in a farewell not to his colleagues admitted that he was departing because of a mistake he committed earlier this year. His departure was effective on Monday. The sources familiar to the issue have claimed that the incident was related to the Artemis Program, a project made to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. The program was announced by Trump administration last year but was criticized for poor feasibility.

The source familiar with the incident in question said that the mistake was linked to the contract being awarded earlier this year for the development of lunar landers. Loverro declined to respond or comment on the news. He began serving in his role as the Chief of NASA’s human spaceflight programs in December  by succeeding William Gerstenmaier who occupied the job for more than a decade. In the 700-word farewell note aimed at his colleagues, Mr. Loveroo said that only leaders are “called on to take risks” and added that, “I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill 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,” Loverro wrote. “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 18th, 2020.”

NASA’s office of the Inspector General in March initiated an audit to investigate the agency’s acquisition strategy for the Artemis Program. However it is not confirmed whether the inquiry was related to Loverro’s mistake or not. A source familiar with the matter on the condition of anonymity told CNN Business that the incident in question was not linked with SpaceX and NASA partnership for Commercial Crew Program which will see the former sending two astronauts to the International Space Station.

Mr. Loverro on Thursday was expected to preside over the final technical review meeting ahead of launch on May 27, 2020. Steve Jurczyk would take the charge in the absence of Loverro while Ken Bowersox, deputy associate administration for human exploration and operations at space agency will become interim head of the NASA’s human spaceflight.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who chairs the House space and science committee termed the news of Loverro’s departure as shocking.

“I trust that NASA Administrator Bridenstine will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt,” Johnson said. “Beyond that, Mr. Loverro’s resignation is another troubling indication that the Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is still not on stable footing. I look forward to clarification from NASA as to the reasons for this latest personnel action.”

Kendra Horn, a Democrat from Oklahoma who chairs a House subcommittee on space on Tuesday tweeted that she is “deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of US astronauts on US soil in almost a decade.”

According to the publicly available documents, Jurczyk was the source selection officer for the Artemis lunar lander contract awards.

Disclosing Loverro’s appointment in October, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine praised Loverro as “a respected strategic leader in both civilian and defense programs” who “will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis.”

An email circulating in agency offices on Tuesday said Loverro “hit the ground running” after his selection for the space agency in 2019 and he had made :significant progress in his time at NASA.”

“His leadership has moved us closer to our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024,” the email added. It also noted that the resignation of the chief was effective immediately, though it didn’t furnished any details about the exact cause of his exit.