NASA Astronaut Recounts When Apollo 13 Mission Turned From Exploration to Survival

Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag. Image courtesy of NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center

William Gerstenmaier, head of the agency's human exploration office, was suddenly demoted on Wednesday.

The widely-respected Gerstenmaier is a NASA veteran who joined the agency in 1977, rising to become one of its top managers, overseeing the space shuttle program and USA operations on the International Space Station before becoming head of HEO.

The agency's chief Jim Bridenstine announced the changes in an internal memo to employees, signaling the latest leadership changes.

In an email obtained by CNET, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told employees Wednesday that Gerstenmaier would become a special assistant to Jim Morhard, the deputy administrator.

In his memo, Bridenstine said the leadership reshuffle was in line with the ambitious Artemis programme - an effort to send a man and the first-ever woman to the moon within the next five years, and named Kenneth Bowersox, a former NASA astronaut, as the new acting associate administrator.

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To meet this "bold challenge", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an email to employees that Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) missions directorate, has been removed from his position and assigned an advisory role, the Washington Post and other U.S. news outlets. The mission's objective quickly shifted from exploration to survival.

Bill Hill, who had served with Gerstenmaier as deputy associate administrator in the human exploration office, was also reassigned.

The White House has shown frustration with the pace of Nasa's efforts, especially its Space Launch System, which is years behind schedule and plagued with cost overruns. He was also spearheading the agency's effort to return astronauts to the moon. He was hired after Pence's remarks to lead the agency's structure changes.

In a March speech, he took aim at NASA's bureaucracy, saying the agency "must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization".

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