NASA head of human spaceflight suddenly resigns days before ‘historic’ space mission

A leading figure at Nasa responsible for the agency’s human spaceflight programs has suddenly resigned just days before the US is set to send astronauts back into space from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program was retired almost a decade ago.

Doug Loverro, the official in charge of the human spaceflight division, left on Monday, Nasa said.

Next week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is due to put two US astronauts on a much-anticipated test flight of the company’s Dragon capsule to the International Space Station from Florida.

Nasa indicated on Tuesday the launch would proceed according to that schedule. A vital launch readiness review is planned for later this week.

“Next week will mark the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight with the launch of Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station,” a statement from the space agency said. “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.”

The men are scheduled to blast off in the SpaceX Dragon craft from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Wednesday next week.

Nasa said in a statement on Tuesday that Loverro resigned from his position as associate administrator for human exploration and operations effective Monday, noting that Ken Bowersox, Loverro’s deputy, would serve as acting associate administrator. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to media queries about the background to Loverro’s abrupt departure.

But the announcement took the space community by surprise, Space News reported.

Loverro was a Pentagon official in the past. He had been in the human spaceflight role at Nasa for a matter of a few months.

The Washington Post reported that his resignation came after he broke a rule during Nasa’s recent procurement of a spacecraft capable of landing humans on the moon, quoting two people with knowledge of the situation.

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