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NASA shakeup continues as ISS manager steps down

Published Jun 16th, 2020 8:07PM EDT
nasa shakeup
Image: NASA

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  • NASA’s International Space Station program manager Kirk Shireman has decided to retire, just weeks after the first Commercial Crew mission to the ISS was a success.
  • Shireman reportedly had plans for retirement well in advance of the SpaceX launch, and had planned to step down from his post this year regardless of external factors. 
  • NASA has yet to name a replacement for the post.

Just last month, a NASA executive resigned just days ahead of a mission that he helped to make possible. Head of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, announced he was stepping away from NASA just as the first Commercial Crew mission was set to depart, with a SpaceX Crew Dragon ferrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station for the first time.

It was a strange decision, but Loverro said it had nothing to do with the Commercial Crew mission and the mission itself went off without a hitch. Now, as Behnken and Hurley are currently aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s own International Space Station program manager is announcing his retirement.

As CNN reports, Kirk Shireman is calling it a career at NASA, stepping down from his post as ISS program manager in the midst of a very exciting time for NASA and the spaceflight industry in general. NASA’s Daniel Hout, public affairs officer, announced the departure, though CNN cites unnamed sources that confirmed Shireman had retirement plans in the works long before the SpaceX Crew Dragon took to the skies.

Shireman has held his post for five years, and for the entirety of that time (up until a couple of weeks ago), NASA was relying on Russian rockets to take its astronauts to the orbiting laboratory. Now, with the Crew Dragon a seemingly viable option for launches from US soil, the space agency is in a great position.

“One of the strengths of an organization like NASA is that we don’t rely on a single individual to drive the entire assessment and evaluation and management effort,” Robert Behnken told CNN in an interview from the International Space Station. “And if the leader needs to move, then we’ll get a new leader and continue to move forward. And the team is strong enough to recognize their role in assisting that new leader as they’re coming in and take over the organization.”

NASA doesn’t have a replacement lined up just yet, but with so much going on with the ISS these days, and the success of the Commercial Crew program, we’d expect that announcement to come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, Behnken and Hurley will continue their duties aboard the ISS, including an upcoming pair of spacewalks that will see Behnken help to replace aging batteries on the exterior of the space station.

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