Shakeup at NASA as space agency scrambles to meet Trump moon mandate

US astronaut Buzz Aldrin climbs down the ladder from the lunar module

Bill Gerstenmaier, who was leading the efforts to return humans to the lunar surface, has been with Nasa since 1977 and head of the human exploration office for 14 years.

To meet this "bold challenge", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an email to employees that Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) missions directorate, has been removed from his position and assigned an advisory role, the Washington Post and other United States news outlets.

NASA has shaken up it leadership ranks as the Trump administration pushes the agency to return to the moon.

"Almost 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 mission captivated the world as two American astronauts were the first to step foot on the moon, forever changing space exploration", said in a statement Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

In an email obtained by CNET, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told employees Wednesday that Gerstenmaier would become a special assistant to Jim Morhard, the deputy administrator. More features such as moon- and space-related tours and quizzes on Google Earth have also been lined up from July 15.

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Bill Hill, who had served with Gerstenmaier as deputy associate administrator in the human exploration office, was also reassigned. "If NASA's not now capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission".

Wednesday's shakeups are the latest as NASA aims to transform itself into "a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization", as Pence said in the March speech to the National Space Council.

At the time, NASA's Moon to Mars page still listed 2028 as the target for putting astronauts on the moon.

The Washington Post earlier reported that many NASA employees were seemingly sceptical that the new Moon mission deadline is achievable without slashing other missions.

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