NASA's chief of human exploration has resigned just days before the first astronaut launch in nearly a decade from Kennedy Space Center, citing a "mistake" he made taking "risks" to "fulfill our mission."
The space agency notified employees of the news Tuesday.
Douglas Loverro, whose resignation took effect Monday, joined NASA last October. He is a former Defense Department and National Reconnaissance Office manager, specializing in space security matters for three decades.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs would only say Loverro decided to resign and, beyond that, the agency cannot discuss personnel issues.
Loverro told NASA workers in a 700-word note, CNN reported, leaders are "called on to take risks," adding, "I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission."
"Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences," Loverro wrote. "And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18, 2020."
The announcement comes just eight days before SpaceX attempts to launch its first astronauts under NASA's commercial crew program. Liftoff is scheduled for May 27.
Besides overseeing SpaceX and Boeing's effort to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, Loverro was in charge of NASA's Artemis moon-landing program. Just 2½ weeks ago, NASA announced the three winning corporate teams that will develop lunar landers for astronauts.
Former space shuttle commander Ken Bowersox, Loverro's deputy, will resume his role as acting associate administrator of human exploration and operations.
The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA flew to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.
It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.
NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken departed Houston aboard one of the space agency's jet planes.
They are scheduled to blast off next Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station. They will soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.
Awaiting the astronauts at Kennedy's former shuttle landing strip were the center's director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
The welcoming committee was reduced drastically in size because of the coronavirus pandemic. Journalists were told to wear masks.
NASA's commercial crew program has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, is not expect to launch its first astronauts until next year.
Newsmax writer Eric Mack contributed in compling this report.
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