NASA replaces key administrator amid push to return to moon

US astronaut Buzz Aldrin climbs down the ladder from the lunar module

US astronaut Buzz Aldrin climbs down the ladder from the lunar module

In a major shakeup at NASA Headquarters, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that Bill Gerstenmaier, the widely respected director of human spaceflight, has been replaced in the midst of an ambitious push to meet the Trump administration's directive to send astronauts back to the moon within five years. More features such as moon- and space-related tours and quizzes on Google Earth have also been lined up from July 15. "It's not just competition against our adversaries, " he said.

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.

"(Gerstenmaier's) been at NASA for 42 years and we love him, and in fact, we have an opportunity now to land on the Moon in the year 2024 because of the hard work that he has put into the program", Bridenstine told Fox News in an interview published Thursday.

"In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes to the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate".

Bill Hill, a deputy associate administrator under Gerstenmaier, was also moved to a special assistant position under NASA's associate administrator Steve Jurczyk.

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Today there is increased interest in returning, with Nasa aiming to put feet on the moon by 2024 and multinational plans to build a space station around the moon in the future.

Johnson said that amid the challenges that come with the moonshot project, removing experienced leaders at NASA appears to be an ill-guided decision.

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.

Critics have said such tight deadlines may lead to serious risk-taking to save time, including reducing the amount of testing done on rockets.Bridenstine has described the 2024 deadline as "aggressive" but doable.

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