NASA has replaced the head of its human space exploration directorate in a major shake-up, United States media reported on Wednesday, as the agency scrambles to meet President Donald Trump's ambitious deadline to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.
Bill Hill, who had served with Gerstenmaier as deputy associate administrator in the human exploration office, was also reassigned.
Gerstenmaier has been assigned to take on a new role as special adviser to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard, a position that is something of a demotion for the agency veteran, who has been with NASA since 1977.
Nasa is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which saw Commander Neil Armstrong become the first person to step onto the lunar surface.
"In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate". In his long career with the agency, he managed the International Space Station and also directed the safe completion of at least 21 space shuttle missions.
"The Trump Administration's ill-defined crash program to land astronauts on the Moon in 2024 was going to be challenging enough to achieve under the best of circumstances", Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas said in a statement.
Gerstenmaier appeared to favor test firing the mammoth rocket's first stage, powered by four upgraded space shuttle main engines, at NASA's Stennis Space Center in MS next year to make sure the booster met its design specifications.
When Apollo 13 launched into the sunny Florida skies atop a Saturn V rocket that Saturday evening, the mission marked NASA's third lunar landing attempt.
The Washington Post earlier reported that many NASA employees were seemingly sceptical that the new Moon mission deadline is achievable without slashing other missions.
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