Get to know Kathy Lueders, NASA’s new leader for NASA’s human spaceflight efforts

HOUSTON – NASA officials held a news conference with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to introduce the new NASA head of human spaceflight.

Now, former Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders addressed media just four days into her new position as Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate at NASA.

KPRC 2 reporter Rose-Ann Aragon asked the new leader and administrator about Space City’s role in human spaceflight.

Since 2014, Lueders has directed NASA’s plans to send astronauts into space on a commercially-built spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Her efforts so far have been highlighted with a successful SpaceX Demo-2 launch from Cape Canaveral on May 30. 

“Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024,” said Bridenstine. “She has a deep interest in developing commercial markets in space, dating back to her initial work on the space shuttle program. From Commercial Cargo and now Commercial Crew, she has safely and successfully helped push to expand our nation’s industrial base. Kathy’s the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we’ve been given.”

More About Kathy

Lueders has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from the University of New Mexico and a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from New Mexico State University.

Lueders began her NASA career in 1992 at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico where she was the Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System and Reaction Control Systems Depot manager. She later moved to the International Space Station Program and served as a transportation integration manager, where she led commercial cargo resupply services to the space station, according to NASA.

She also was responsible for NASA oversight of international partner spacecraft visiting the space station, including the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, and the Russian space agency Roscosmos’ Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, according to NASA. She spent more than a decade at the Johnson Space Center and has a daughter and grandchild in Houston. She went to Kennedy as acting Commercial Crew Program Manager in 2013 and was selected as the head of the office in 2014.

Lueders replaced Doug Loverro, who resigned abruptly just weeks before the Demo-2 launch. In Thursday’s teleconference, Bridenstine said that there is a “personnel issue” with Loverro that NASA would not discuss. 

“I worked for Doug Loverro for 6 months and learned a tremendous amount ... I appreciated his mentorship during that period of time ... You always add ... every bit you have adds a little bit to your toolbox, and he added some to mine,” Lueders said.

Steve Stich is named Commercial Crew Program Manager, and Ken Bowersox returns to his role as HEO deputy associate administrator.

”I’ve always been impressed with her ability to lead teams and her technical competence,” Bridenstine said in Thursday’s teleconference.

Space city and the Future

“I was at Johnson Space Center for over 12 years ... (It’s) obviously an integral part. It’s where spacecraft had been born. Right? ... We’re a multi-center program and so we’re able to get the best skills from the agency to help us from a program standpoint. So we’re able to leverage off obviously the launch vehicle experience and ground processing experience at KSC along with the the spacecraft and flight operations experience--vast experience at JSC along with all the propulsion knowledge that the Marshall Space Flight Center provides. So I think we’re going to leverage off people’s capabilities,” Lueders said to Rose-Ann Aragon who participated in the teleconference.

Lueders and Bridenstine agreed that the Johnson Space Center would play a critical role in NASA's goals of exploring Mars and its Artemis mission.

“The home of mission control. I think it’s important to note that when the Astronauts are on the moon -- the first words are going to be, ‘Houston’. So, yeah, the Johnson Space Center plays a critical role. It’s also the biggest center,” Bridenstine said.

With a successful Demo-2 launch in May, Lueders said they plan on sending commanders Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley back to Earth sometime in August. The agency also has plans to send the Perseverence Rover to Mars on July 20 this year. Lueders will be a critical leader with plans to send the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024. Lueders said her challenge and goal is to get fully plugged in and continue to push forward.

“It’s very important to have an aggressive goal. We had an aggressive goal in commercial crew and we think that aggressive goal ensured that we were able to accomplish things as quickly as we could...But what I think is important is that when you come across technical challenges... you’re focused on achieving that aggressive goal. Doing it right is better than doing it faster,” Lueders said.

First Woman Head of Human Spaceflight

Lueders will also make history as the first woman to earn this position. It is a milestone in history that she said she does not take lightly.

"When we can see ourselves in people that are out there. It makes us realize we can do it. I think that's very, very important for not only girls out there but for all groups of people that are out there," Lueders said.

“I want to thank Ken and the entire HEO team for their steady support of Kathy in making Commercial Crew such a success,” added Bridenstine. “I know they’ll give her the same support as she moves out in her new role. This is such a critical time for the agency and for HEO. We still need to bring Doug and Bob home safely and we’re not going to lose focus. We have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there.”