NASA's head of human spaceflight resigns days before historic launch of astronauts

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The chief of NASA's human spaceflight directorate resigned Monday, a surprising development from an agency scheduled to launch astronauts from American soil next week for the first time since 2011.

In a statement issued Tuesday, NASA confirmed that associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Doug Loverro resigned from his position Monday. He had just been selected for the role in October.

The agency did not disclose why Loverro, previously of the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, decided to leave the team that is on the cusp of meeting human spaceflight goals.

The shakeup comes just a week before Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launch from Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a milestone set to fill the gap a lack of American-led human spaceflight has left behind. The veteran astronauts are set to launch from Pad 39A at 4:33 p.m. May 27.

It remains unclear whether Loverro's departure will have an impact on the mission timeline.

According to a Politico-obtained message that Loverro sent to his team, "personal actions" were the force that drove the departure. He told the publication that it was not due to a disagreement between him and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, but rather a "mistake."

"My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we accomplished together," he told Politico.

Related Video: NASA Administrator Bridenstine on JFK's Timeline to Reach the Moon

His acting replacement: Ken Bowersox, currently the deputy HEO administrator, who is a former astronaut and a retired Navy aviator. He also spent several years at SpaceX.

"Bowersox has previously led HEO in a time of transition, and NASA has the right leadership in place to continue making progress on the Artemis and Commercial Crew programs," NASA said in a statement.

Former space shuttle astronaut and current SpaceX consultant Garrett Reisman said via Twitter that while the timing is not ideal, Bowersox is capable of rising to the task.

"Timing on this is not good, but I'd be a lot more concerned if it weren't for the fact that Bowersox is more than capable of overseeing this important week in human spaceflight," he said. "His deep experience at NASA and SpaceX makes him the ideal replacement for Loverro, actually."

Before Loverro, longtime NASA veteran William Gerstenmaier was in charge of human spaceflight operations until his ouster. He now consults with SpaceX.

Follow Emre Kelly at Twitter: @EmreKelly.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: NASA's head of human spaceflight resigns days before astronauts launch

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