Moving those deck chairs! NASA yesterday announced that it is reorganizing the bureaucracy of its manned programs, splitting the Artemis program out from the commercial program.
The space agency announced today (Sept. 21) that it’s splitting the current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) into two new entities: the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD).
…ESDMD will be responsible for the development of systems and technology critical for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land astronauts on the moon in the next few years and establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by the end of the 2020s. ESDMD will also map out NASA’s broader “Moon to Mars” exploration strategy, of which Artemis is an integral part, agency officials said. (NASA aims to land humans on Mars in the 2030s, by leveraging the skills and techniques learned during the Artemis moon effort.)
SOMD, meanwhile, will be in charge of crewed launches and ongoing human spaceflight operations, including activities on the International Space Station and the commercialization of low Earth orbit, a NASA priority over the coming years. SOMD will also be responsible for crewed operations on and around the moon once they get up and running.
Kathy Lueders, who had been promoted from just running the commercial crew program to run all of manned space back in 2020, will once again run just the commercial side. The Artemis side will be run by another long time NASA administrator, Jim Free.
As I noted in 2020, these kinds of reorganizations at NASA happen periodically, and generally accomplish little except to allow NASA’s top managers to make believe they are doing something. In this case the split I think is intended to prevent Artemis from being completely taken over by commercial space, thus giving some bureaucratic clout to SLS and the factions at NASA that favor government control, with NASA designing and building everything rather than simply being a customer. If so, the decision is a bad one for Artemis. It means the Biden administration and those factions want to once again take over the design and construction of the entire Artemis program. Since NASA’s track record in this area has been abysmal for decades, it is unlikely this shift will change anything for the better.
This reorganization also suggests that the Biden administration has had second thoughts about the private and commercial approach as recommended in my policy paper, Capitalism in space and adopted by the Trump administration. If so, the consequences for the new emerging private space industry will not be good. They shall increasingly find the government more eager to micromanage their designs and concepts, rather than allowing the private sector the freedom to create things on its own.
The one silver lining to this change is that by creating these two divisions, NASA will be highlighting the competition between them. As commercial space increasingly succeeds, leaving the cumbersome Artemis program far behind, the split will illustrate clearly to the entire world that a government-built program is not the way to go.
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