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As it moves toward returning to the Moon, ideally sometime in 2024, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is creating two new mission directorates. With the move, the agency is separating its existing Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate. NASA said it's making the change in response to the increasing number of missions it's conducting in low-Earth orbit, in addition to the plans it has for exploring deep space in the future.
It also announced who's leading those units. Jim Free, a NASA veteran who has been with the space agency on and off since 1990, is the new associate administrator of ESDMD, while Kathy Lueders is taking on the equivalent position at the Space Operations Mission Directorate. Before becoming the first-ever woman to oversee human spaceflight at NASA, Lueders managed the Commercial Crew Program. As for what the two units will do, ESDMD will oversee the development of programs critical to Project Artemis and eventually manned spaceflight to Mars. Meanwhile, its counterpart will focus on launch operations, including those involving the International Space Station, with an eye towards Moon missions later.
According to NASA, the reorganization is ultimately about looking forward to the next 20 years. The new structure will allow one unit to focus on human spaceflight while the other builds future space systems. In that way, the agency says there will be a constant cycle of development and operations to help it move forward with its space exploration goals.
"This reorganization positions NASA and the United States for success as we venture farther out into the cosmos than ever before, all while supporting the continued commercialization of space and research on the International Space Station," Nelson said. "This also will allow the United States to maintain its leadership in space for decades to come."