Hawthorne-based SpaceX hires Ex-NASA official for key role on Starship program

Hawthorne-based SpaceX has hired Kathy Lueders, a former NASA associate administrator who recently retired from the space agency, to work on the company’s next-generation Starship program.

Lueders is a general manager at Starbase, SpaceX’s launch facility in southern Texas, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing personnel changes.

SpaceX both builds and launches its massive deep-space Starship vehicle from the facility.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX has hired Kathy Lueders, a former NASA associate administrator who recently retired from the space agency, to work on the company’s next-generation Starship program. Courtesy photo

The hiring was reported earlier by CNBC.

Prior to joining SpaceX, Lueders spent roughly three decades at NASA, working on both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station programs.

She served as the manager of the Commercial Crew Program, which worked extensively with SpaceX to launch the company’s first human spaceflight missions to the ISS.

She also served as NASA’s first female associate administrator for human exploration.

Lueders left NASA at the end of last month. When she stepped down, she said on Twitter she was taking some much-needed time off, but “will be back for my next adventure.”

Elon Musk’s launch company has a history of hiring former NASA officials. In 2020, the company brought on former NASA official William Gerstenmaier, who had served as NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight for about 14 years.

SpaceX is navigating the aftermath of its unsuccessful launch of the giant rocket for which it has major plans in the years ahead.

Wildlife and environmental groups sued the Federal Aviation Administration last month over the Texas launch. Despite the explosion, Musk said his company could be ready to launch the next Starship in six to eight weeks with the FAA’s OK.

Musk has promised to make improvements to the next Starship before it flies. The self-destruct system will need to be modified, he said, so that the rocket explodes immediately — not 40 seconds or so afterward, as was the case with this inaugural run, he said.

SpaceX’s Starship soared 24 miles high before exploding over the Gulf of Mexico on April 20. The rocket’s self-destruct system caused the nearly 400-foot   rocket to blow up, as it spun out of control just minutes into the test flight.

An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, said the groups are suing over what they consider to be the FAA’s failure to fully consider the environmental impacts of the Starship program near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. They asked the court to throw out the five-year license the FAA granted to SpaceX.

The FAA declined comment, noting it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. The agency is overseeing the accident investigation and has ordered all SpaceX Starships grounded until it’s certain that public safety will not be compromised.

No injuries or significant damage to public property were reported from any of the rocket wreckage or flying pad debris. A large crater was carved into the concrete pad, as most of the rocket’s 33 main engines ignited at liftoff.

Starship still attach to booster 7 spins out of control in the sky after launch from the pad during SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket, falls to earth after exploding 4 minutes after its launch Thursday from the company’s Boca Chica launchpad on a brief uncrewed test flight near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. April 20, 2023. Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

The launch pad is on a remote site on the southernmost tip of Texas, just below South Padre Island, and about 20 miles from Brownsville.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported last week that large concrete chunks, stainless steel sheets, metal and other objects were hurled thousands of feet (hundreds of meters) from the pad. In addition, a plume of pulverized concrete sent material up to 6.4 miles (4 kilometers) northwest of the pad, the service noted.

It was the first launch of a full-size Starship, with the sci-fi-looking spacecraft on top the huge booster rocket. The company plans to use it to send people and cargo to the moon and, ultimately, Mars. NASA wants to use Starship to ferry astronauts to the lunar surface as soon as 2025.

Musk said changes are being made at the launch pad to avoid what he called a dust storm and “rock tornado” at the next launch.

“To the best of our knowledge there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment that we’re aware of,” Musk said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report 



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