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Changes ahead as NASA’s human spaceflight head plans retirement

Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, announced Monday she will retire from the agency at the end of April. Lueders’ current deputy and astronaut, Ken Bowersox, will become the new head of Space Operations, effective Monday, May 1.

“Kathy is a tremendous public servant and a trailblazer, not only serving as the first woman to head space operations for NASA and the first woman to manage our human spaceflight program, but also championing a new way of doing business in low Earth orbit. The public-private commercial model Kathy and her team helped pioneer will return humanity to the Moon and prepare us for our next giant leap: the first crewed missions to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Ken has been instrumental to advancing NASA’s goals and missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond, and I know Space Operations will be in good hands under his leadership.”


During her 31 years with the agency, Lueders provided strategic guidance for NASA’s human exploration of space, as well as operations that allow the agency to launch science missions to learn about Earth and the universe. Her efforts have helped NASA foster significant change in how it partners with American industry to support and expand research aboard the International Space Station – with crewed and cargo transportation to and from the station.


Lueders started her NASA career at the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she was the Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System and Reaction Control Systems Depot manager. She quickly demonstrated her engineering expertise, leading her through positions in the International Space Station Program and eventually to serve as manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida before joining NASA Headquarters in Washington.


Her many honors include several NASA achievement awards, the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award, and the Distinguished Service Medal. In addition, she is a 2022 National Academy of Engineering member, a 2020 SpaceNews Government Leader of the Year, an inductee to the 2021 Space and Satellite Hall of Fame, and recipient of the 2021 American Astronomical Society Spaceflight Achievement Award, 2020 Woman in Aerospace Leadership Award, 2022 Space Pioneer Award by the National Space Society, and IAASS’ 2019 Leonardo da Vinci Lifetime Achievement Award.


Upon Lueders’ retirement, Bowersox will take lead for the mission directorate. His operations experience includes being acting associate administrator of the former Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, will allow NASA to build on its success in human space exploration.


As an astronaut, Bowersox flew five orbital missions for NASA, including two Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. He served as commander of the sixth expedition at the space station. Following his station mission, Bowersox served as the director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. He also has experience from working with American industry and serving on the NASA Advisory Council as chair of the Human Exploration and Operations Committee.


“Kathy and Ken have both dedicated their life’s work to NASA and our nation. I wish Kathy well during her retirement. We know countless individuals at NASA – as well as members of the Artemis Generation – will be inspired by Kathy’s service and countless contributions,” Nelson said.

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