NASA is restructuring its human spaceflight office, which will have implications for future exploration missions.
The decision comes as private companies like SpaceX demonstrate more cost-effective methods of getting people into space, and NASA moves forward with ambitious goals to create settlements on the Moon's surface within the next decade.
The Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA's human exploration wing, will be split into two new bodies: the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD).
NASA officials say that categorizing programs based on their stages of development rather than their areas of expertise will help them focus their efforts.
"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," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. "This also will allow the United States to maintain its leadership in space for decades to come."
Kathy Lueders, the agency's current leader of all human spaceflight programs, will have her responsibilities trimmed as part of the restructure. Jim Free, a former senior manager at NASA, has been rehired as a program leader.
Lueders will manage operational initiatives like the International Space Station and commercial crew missions while leading the SOMD segment. The Artemis Moon program, which includes the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket, and Human Landing System, will be managed by the other half of the reformed office, ESDMD. Its chief will be Free.
From 2016 to 2017, Free worked as a deputy to William Gerstenmaier, the longest-serving of these human spaceflight commanders. Some within NASA saw him as an eventual replacement, however, Free left to work for Peerless Technologies in 2017 and has most recently served as a consultant.
According to most accounts, Lueders has done an admirable job in recent years. Under her guidance, NASA and SpaceX successfully completed the commercial crew program, with Crew Dragon now flying operational missions to the International Space Station.
She has also managed to drive the Artemis program forward, picking SpaceX to develop a Human Landing System in April and sticking to that decision despite a backlash in Congress and a lawsuit filed by Blue Origin, another lander bidder.
NASA will put the restructure in place over the next few months. According to officials, the changes will not affect any missions or the roles of the agency's research centers.