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NASA’s head of human spaceflight resigns ahead of historic SpaceX launch – The Verge

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NASA’s head of human spaceflight resigns ahead of historic SpaceX launch – The Verge_5ec468e09631a.jpeg

The head of NASA’s human exploration program, Doug Loverro, has resigned less than six months after assuming the position within the agency, according to a NASA memo. The drastic change in leadership comes just a week before NASA will launch its first astronauts from the US in nearly a decade, on top of SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon spacecraft.

This is the second time during the Trump administration that this role has been in turmoil. In July 2019, NASA demoted the original person in this position, William Gerstenmaier, who had been serving as the associate administrator for human exploration at NASA for nearly 15 years. Loverro took over the position in December after a long search by NASA, but now his tenure has been cut short.

“Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” a memo to NASA employees states. “His leadership of [human exploration] has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024. Loverro has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and we thank him for his service and contributions to the agency.”

Loverro resigned on Monday, May 18th, however NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine did not mention the change to Vice President Mike Pence during the meeting of the National Space Council, which took place on Tuesday, May 19th. In a memo to staff, Loverro attributes his resignation to a risk he took earlier this year, but doesn’t explain what it was. “Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description,” he writes. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. 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.”

Ken Bowersox, who filled the position temporarily when Gerstenmaier was demoted, will take over the role once again now that Loverro is gone. Bowersox is a former astronaut and currently the deputy associate administrator for human exploration.

As the associate administrator for human spaceflight, Loverro oversaw the agency’s Artemis program, the plan to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024. Loverro had also been in charge of reorganizing NASA’s plans to help turn low Earth orbit into a more commercial domain. “I want to be clear that the fact that I am taking this step has nothing to do with your performance as an organization nor with the plans we have placed in motion to fulfill our mission,” Loverro wrote in a memo to staff. “If anything, your performance and those plans make everything we have worked for over the past six months more attainable and more certain than ever before. My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.”

It’s a wild time for this kind of change, too, as Loverro has been effectively overseeing NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been developing new private vehicles to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX is set to fly its first two astronauts through the program on May 27th, a little more than a week away.

NASA argues that the change will not affect the program or the mission. “We have full confidence in the work [program manager] Kathy Lueders and her entire Commercial Crew team have done to bring us here,” NASA’s memo states. “This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.”

Update May 19th, 4:42PM ET: This article was update to include information from a memo from Loverro.

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Attention Required! | Cloudflare

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What can I do to prevent this in the future?

If you are on a personal connection, like at home, you can run an anti-virus scan on your device to make sure it is not infected with malware.

If you are at an office or shared network, you can ask the network administrator to run a scan across the network looking for misconfigured or infected devices.

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How to see Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in rare conjunction this weekend – CNET

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The two largest worlds and the smallest planet in the solar system make an appearance this weekend.


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A trio of planets make an appearance at dusk this weekend when Jupiter and Saturn, still chilling together at the after-party from last month’s rare Great Conjunction, will be joined just above the western to southwestern horizon by the more flighty planet Mercury. The planetary trio is a rare sight that can be witnessed with the naked eye just after sunset over the next several days, though Saturday evening offered perhaps the best opportunity to see the three worlds bunched together. 

Astronomy magazine reports that the planets will all be visible within an area about 2.3 degrees across that evening (that’s about the width of your pinky and ring finger together when they’re held away from your body at arm’s length). Mercury will be the lowest of the three in the sky, Jupiter will be the brightest and Saturn will be the dimmest.

Binoculars might help you get a better view, while even a cheap backyard telescope can offer a chance to glimpse some of the larger moons of Jupiter. This might be a good thing to try when Mercury and Saturn have disappeared below the horizon and it’s a little darker out.

To be sure to catch the entire trio, the key is to get outside right after the sun sets as Mercury and Saturn will be quick to dip below the horizon within an hour. While the planets may be closest Saturday, they will continue to congregate while shifting around over the next several nights, so you have a few shots at catching them all like a kind of cosmic game of Pokemon.

As always, if the amateur astrophotographers among you grab any great images of the celestial gathering, please share them with me on Twitter @EricCMack.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.

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NASA’s Europa Clipper has been liberated from the Space Launch System | TheHill

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NASA’s Europa Clipper has been liberated from the Space Launch System | TheHill_5ffb8260e66f4.jpeg

Almost unnoticed, tucked into the 2021 fiscal NASA funding section of the recently passed omnibus spending bill, is a provision that would seem to liberate the upcoming Europa Clipper mission from the Space Launch System (SLS). 

According to Space News, the mandate that the Europa Clipper mission be launched on an SLS remains in place only if the behind-schedule and overpriced heavy lift rocket is available and if concerns about hardware compatibility between the probe and the launcher are resolved. Otherwise, NASA is free to search for commercial alternatives to get the Europa Clipper to Jupiter’s ice-shrouded moon.

Europa Clipper is slated to go into orbit around Jupiter and make multiple flyby maneuvers near Europa, an icy world that many scientists believe has a warm ocean under the ice layer. Life may exist in that ocean, the confirmation of which would be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of this or any other century.

The Europa Clipper being mandated to fly on an SLS to begin with was the result of an unseemly side of congressional budget politics. The space probe was championed by former Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonTexas Republicans sound post-2020 alarm bells 2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump’s NASA moon program Bottom line MORE (R-Texas), who at the time was the chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. In order to get support for the Europa Clipper, Culberson added the SLS mandate, which garnered support from Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyRepublican infighting on election intensifies Bipartisan group of senators: The election is over Bottom line MORE ( R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Shelby’s state contains a number of aerospace contractors involved in developing the SLS.

Ironically, Culberson lost his seat in 2018, in part, because his opponent, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), accused him of being more concerned with space missions than local issues, such as flooding brought on by Hurricane Harvey. Nevertheless, the Europa Clipper continued without its key champion in Congress.

As Ars Technica points out, launching the Europa Clipper on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy saves the mission $1.5 billion. An advantage of using the SLS has been that it allows for a direct path to Jupiter without the time-consuming planetary flyby maneuvers that previous missions to the outer planets have required. The Falcon Heavy alone would not be able to get the Europa Clipper to Jupiter space directly, though it might be able to if equipped with a powerful Centaur kick stage.

Both the economics and physics of getting to Europa change if SpaceX’s Starship, currently under development in Boca Chica, Texas, becomes available to launch the Europa Clipper in the mid-2020s. The Starship is meant to fulfill SpaceX’s CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskWill Axiom Space provide a commercial space station replacement for NASA’s ISS? World’s richest people added .8T to their combined wealth in 2020 Trump ends Obama’s 12-year run as most admired man: Gallup MORE’s dreams of settling Mars. But the massive reusable rocket would be available for other things, presumably including sending probes to the outer planets.

The massive cost savings by using a commercial launcher for the Europa Clipper creates other possibilities. The Europa Lander could be placed back on. A mission to Saturn’s frozen world Enceladus may also be greenlit.

The SLS is the result of a Faustian bargain struck between NASA and Congress in 2010. Congress was enraged by then-President Obama’s cancellation of the Bush-era Constellation deep space exploration program. According to then-NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, NASA agreed to the SLS in return for Congress supporting the Commercial Crew program that recently came to fruition with the launch of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The SLS has since been a lead weight on America’s space ambitions. The SLS slated to launch the Artemis 1 uncrewed mission around the moon is currently stuck in a ground-based “green run” series of tests. The SLS is currently using up a great deal of the money allocated to NASA’s Artemis program. The first flight is scheduled for November 2021 at the earliest.

In the meantime, SpaceX has been flying prototypes of the Starship, albeit only in the atmosphere and with occasionally explosive results. NASA is officially disdainful of the idea of replacing the SLS with the Starship. However, a version of the SpaceX massive rocket ship is in the running as a lunar lander for Artemis. It would not be too great a leap to cut out the SLS entirely and go directly with the Starship, if it were not for congressional budget politics.

And that, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.  He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.

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