He placed Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut and vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance for Elon Musk's SpaceX, as acting associate administrator for the human exploration wing. Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of human exploration, has also been reassigned as a special adviser to Steve Jurczyk, NASA's associate administrator.More news: US House votes to curb Trump powers to start Iran war
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. The mission's objective quickly shifted from exploration to survival.
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. 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.More news: China's June exports fall after US tariff hike, imports shrink
The project, named Artemis, would be the first attempt to return humans to the lunar surface since the last Apollo landing in 1972, but some experts doubt if the deadline is realistic given budgetary constraints and delays in developing the next-generation rockets and equipment needed for the journey. The space agency now hopes to launch the SLS and an unpiloted Orion capsule on a test flight around the moon in late 2020 or, more likely, in 2021.
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.More news: Prime Day Preview: New MacBook Air Just $999
"We, as a nation, are thankful for his service in advancing America's priorities and expanding the limits of science, technology and exploration", Bridenstine wrote.
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