SpaceX hires former NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders

16 May 2023

Kathy Lueders in 2020. Image: Joel Kowsky/NASA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The first woman to have led NASA’s human spaceflight programme, Lueders will now reportedly work with SpaceX, reporting to president Gwynne Shotwell.

Kathy Lueders, who recently wrapped up her role at NASA as head of human spaceflight, has reportedly been hired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

People familiar with the matter told CNBC, which first reported on the story, that Lueders will be a general manager at SpaceX, working at the company’s Starbase campus in Boca Chica, Texas, and reporting directly to president and COO Gwynne Shotwell.

Until the end of April, Lueders headed up NASA’s human spaceflight programme – the first woman to do so – as associate administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate. She was succeeded by former deputy head of the directorate and five-time astronaut, Ken Bowersox.

Prior to her appointment to the NASA role, Lueders managed the agency’s commercial crew programme, directing the agency’s efforts to send astronauts to space on private spacecraft.

Two years ago, when NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity made history by becoming the first ever aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet, Lueders told that she hadn’t realised she was the first woman to lead the human spaceflight programme.

“I’ve been so privileged to work with a number of brilliant engineers and managers, many of whom were women, but most of whom were men. It didn’t make those teams any less cohesive or collegial. But diverse teams bring diverse ideas,” she said at the time.

“We need for others to see themselves in these kinds of roles, so that they realise they can do it. I think that’s very, very important for not only for girls but for all groups of people.”

Her SpaceX hire comes at a key time for the company as it attempts to make Starship, the largest rocket ever built, launch successfully in the near future and eventually safe for human spaceflight.

No stranger to the work of SpaceX, Lueders brings with her a wealth of experience that will prove invaluable to the company. During her role at NASA, she oversaw the Cargo and Crew Dragon missions to and from the ISS, including SpaceX’s first crewed mission for the agency.

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Kathy Lueders in 2020. Image: Joel Kowsky/NASA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic