Changes Ahead as NASA’s Human Spaceflight Head Plans Retirement

NASA's Kathryn Lueders and Ken Bowersox.

NASA’s Kathryn Lueders and Ken Bowersox. Credit: NASA.

Kathryn Lueders, the associate administrator of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, announced 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.

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 onboard 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 the lead for the mission directorate. His operations experience, including being the 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 working with American industry and serving on the NASA Advisory Council as chair of the Human Exploration and Operations Committee.

Learn more about Bowersox’s experience in his biography online at