Bhavya Lal, a Biden political appointee who has held several positions at the agency since the inauguration, is taking on a new role as head of the agency’s just-created Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy. The reorganization merges two units including the Office of Chief Technologist and Lal will also serve as Acting Chief Technologist. A number of personnel reassignments were announced simultaneously.
Lal has been a prominent public voice of NASA since the beginning of the year, representing the agency at many conferences and webinars.
Two weeks ago she testified to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on NASA’s nuclear propulsion program, a particular area of expertise. As a space policy expert at the Institute for Defense Analyses’ Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) she was appointed as a member of a National Academies committee assessing the merits of nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion for sending humans to Mars. The committee’s report, released earlier this year, was the focus of the hearing. Its co-chair, Roger Myers, represented the Academies’ committee while she was there on behalf of NASA.
Lal has a B.S. and M.S. in nuclear engineering as well as a masters in technology and policy from MIT, plus a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from George Washington University. While at STPI she led studies on topics across the breadth of NASA programs that were conducted for NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Her new Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy (OTPS) will report to Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. Melroy and Lal were both members of Biden’s Agency Review Team, or “landing party,” between the November 2020 election and the January 2021 inauguration. Lal was designated the White House’s Senior Political Apointee to NASA on Inauguration Day and was Acting Chief of Staff and later Senior Advisor for Budget and Finance. Melroy was nominated by Biden to be Deputy Administrator in May and confirmed by the Senate in June.
In making the announcement today, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the action is “in support of Biden-Harris Administration priorities and the focus on space strategy.”
A NASA statement describes OTPS’s role as providing “data- and evidence-driven technology, policy, and strategy advice to NASA leadership.”
Douglas Terrier, who was NASA’s Chief Technologist, has been reassigned to Johnson Space Center as Associate Director for Vision and Strategy.
Tom Cremins, who was Associate Administrator for Strategic Engagements and Assessment, is now Associate Administrator for Space Security Interests, reporting to Nelson.
Also reassigned is Melanie Saunders, who was Deputy Associate Administrator under Bob Cabana, the top civil servant at the agency. She now will be “Chief Resilience Officer” leading agency COVID-response efforts including returning the workforce to more on-site work.
Casey Swails, who already works for Cabana, will serve as his “principal advisor” and Deputy Associate Administrator for Business Operations.
All appointments are effective immediately.
This is the second major reorganization under Nelson’s leadership. In September he split the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in two, returning the headquarters structure for managing the human spaceflight program to what it was before the termination of the space shuttle program and the stretching out of the Moon/Mars program under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Now the Space Operations Mission Directorate and the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate can focus more closely on operations and R&D respectively.
Nelson frequently stresses that he, Melroy and Cabana are a team running the agency. All are former astronauts. Cabana and Melroy were members of the NASA astronaut corps and both commanded space shuttle missions. Melroy is one of only two women to serve as space shuttle commander (Eileen Collins is the other). Nelson flew on the space shuttle when he was a Congressman from a Florida district near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). He continued to represent KSC during his three terms in the U.S. Senate (2001-2019) and Cabana was KSC Director for many of those years.