Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022
A man in a suit stands next to a spacesuit.
enlarge William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, speaking in 2013.

SpaceX has confirmed that William Gerstenmaier, former NASA chief of human spaceflight, has joined the company as a consultant as it prepares to launch astronauts for the first time.

This is a consistent hire for SpaceX – it’s hard to overstate the influence Gerstenmaier has on human spaceflight, both in the United States and abroad. He led NASA’s space shuttle, International Space Station, commercial crew and exploration programs for more than a decade.

He immediately brings credibility to the company’s safety culture. Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, who now chairs NASA’s Advisory Board’s Human Spaceflight Committee, told Ars last summer, “Bill was recognized by all as tech-savvy and very astute. His judgments are based on sound technical reasons. “

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine demoted Gerstenmaier in July 2019 because he felt the space agency’s exploration programs were not moving fast enough. Sources reported at the time that this decision shocked some of the agency’s partners, who were comfortable with the longtime leader of NASA’s manned spaceflight program. Some called the engineer in tears after hearing the news.

For example, less than an hour after CNBC first reported hiring Gerstenmaier, the head of Russian state space company Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted his congratulations: “I wish my friend success in his new job!”

In his new role, Gerstenmaier will report to Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of mission insurance at SpaceX. While the position is officially an advisory position, it is expected to become a full-time position. SpaceX is poised to launch the first manned mission of its Dragon spacecraft in June this year. Gerstenmaier will play a key role in ensuring the safety of those missions and helping SpaceX secure certification for the Crew Dragon vehicle.

The recruitment can also have long-term consequences. Few people in the global space community have as much gravitas as Gerstenmaier or as understanding of how to build coalitions to explore space. As SpaceX seeks partners, including NASA, to help develop Starship to take humans to the Moon and Mars, Gerstenmaier is well positioned to provide advice, merge mission plans and open key doors.

Gerstenmaier and SpaceX have a complicated relationship, but he has supported Elon Musk at key moments during the company’s development. In December 2008, Gerstenmaier rescued a destitute SpaceX with a Commercial Resupply Service contract for operational cargo missions to the International Space Station.

Gerstenmaier’s decision to keep two competitors in 2014 as part of its commercial crew program (SpaceX and Boeing) was also essential, although it was not a business-saving move. Boeing lobbied hard for all the funds and almost got them. Gerstenmaier was the deciding official who kept two providers in the competition. It turned out to be a smart decision, as SpaceX is poised to put Boeing into space for months, if not years, at a cost of 50 percent less.

By akfire1

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