NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, is departing the space agency after just six months in the role. In a farewell note to colleagues, which was obtained by reporters on Tuesday, Loverro said he was resigning over a “mistake” he had made earlier this year.
His departure was effective on Monday.
The incident in question was related to the Artemis Program, a source familiar with the matter told CNN Business.
The Artemis Program seeks to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, which was announced by the Trump administration last year and has been criticized as unrealistic. The source familiar with the reason for Loverro’s departure said the issue centered on contracts that were awarded earlier this year for development of lunar landers, or vehicles that can carry astronauts to the moon’s surface.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Loverro declined to comment on the reason for his departure.
Loverro began serving in his role as the head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs in December, replacing William Gerstenmaier, who served in the role for more than a decade. In his nearly 700-word note, Loverro told NASA workers only that leaders are “called on to take risks” and added that, “I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission.”
“Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences,” Loverro wrote. “And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18th, 2020.”
NASA’s Office of the Inspector General announced an audit of the agency’s acquisition strategy for the Artemis program in March, though it’s unclear if that review was related to Loverro’s departure. It’s also unclear exactly what role Loverro played in the selection process.
The source familiar with the matter, who asked to remain anonymous because the space agency has not yet publicized details, told CNN Business that the incident in question was unrelated to NASA’s historic milestone next week when SpaceX, NASA’s partner in the Commercial Crew Program, launches two astronauts to the International Space Station. That mission will mark the first time since 2011 that humans have launched into orbit from US soil, and Loverro was slated to preside over a final technical review meeting on Thursday, ahead of launch on May 27. Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator, will take over Loverro’s role at that meeting, according to NASA.
Ken Bowersox, NASA’s acting deputy associate administrator for human exploration and operations, will become NASA’s interim head of human spaceflight.
Loverro’s exit immediately raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who chairs the House space and science committee, said in a statement that she was “shocked” by the news.
“I trust that NASA Administrator Bridenstine will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt,” Johnson said. “Beyond that, Mr. Loverro’s resignation is another troubling indication that the Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is still not on stable footing. I look forward to clarification from NASA as to the reasons for this latest personnel action.”
Kendra Horn, a Democrat from Oklahoma who chairs a House subcommittee on space, said in a tweet Tuesday that she is “deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of US astronauts on US soil in almost a decade.”
The timing of Loverro’s departure was related to when Jurczyk, the associate administrator, made a recommendation to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the source said. It was unrelated to next week’s Crew Dragon launch, the source added.
Jurczyk was the source selection officer for the Artemis lunar lander contract awards, according to public documents.
In announcing Loverro’s appointment in October, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine called Loverro “a respected strategic leader in both civilian and defense programs” who “will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis.”
An agency-wide email sent on Tuesday said Loverro “hit the ground running” after his appointment in 2019 and had made “significant progress in his time at NASA.”
“His leadership of [NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations] has moved us closer to our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024,” the email said. It said his resignation was effective immediately, though it did not provide details on the reason for his exit.
A NASA spokesperson declined to comment.
Loverro told CNN Business he is “100% confident” that leadership will be able to carry out the SpaceX mission. He added that he believes NASA’s ambitious human spaceflight goals are “doable.” “But,” he added, “it will take risk takers to get us there, and I hope folks who step in my shoes will continue to take risks.”
Next week’s SpaceX launch will mark the space agency’s highest-profile mission since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. SpaceX, which has a multibillion-dollar contract under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, has worked for the better part of a decade to ready its Dragon spacecraft for crewed flights to the International Space Station. Since the Shuttle retired, NASA has had to rely on Russia for rides to the ISS.
Tesla's Musk earns $770M in stock options, company confirms – SooToday.com
DETROIT — Tesla confirmed Thursday that CEO Elon Musk will get the first tranche worth nearly $770 million of a stock-based compensation package triggered by the company meeting several financial metrics.
The electric car and solar panel maker’s board certified that Musk earned the big payout, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing says Musk can buy 1.69 million shares of Tesla stock for $350.02 each, but it wasn’t clear whether he had exercised the stock options. His payout is based on the difference between the option price and Thursday’s closing share price of $805.81.
Musk earned the options as part of an audacious compensation package approved by the board in 2018.
According to the filing, the board certified that Tesla had reached the milestones by hitting $20 billion in total revenue for four previous quarters and a total market value of $100 billion. The company also reached $1.5 billion in adjusted pretax earnings, but that must still be certified by the board, the filing said.
Musk has to hold the stock for a minimum of five years, under the terms of the compensation package.
Musk can afford to wait before cashing in on his latest windfall, given his wealth is estimated at $39 billion by Forbes magazine.
All told, the incentives approved by Tesla’s board in 2018 consist of 20.3 million stock options that will be doled out in 12 different bundles if the company is able to reach progressively more difficult financial goals. It’s one of the biggest corporate pay packages in U.S. history.
In order for Musk to receive all 20.3 million stock options, Tesla will have to generate adjusted annual earnings of $14 billion on annual revenue of $175 billion coupled with a market value of $650 billion. In the past four quarters, Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, California, has reported adjusted earnings totalling $3.6 billion on revenue totalling $26 billion.
The Associated Press
Elon Musk reaches first Tesla compensation award worth nearly $800 million – The Verge
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has unlocked the first of 12 possible stock option awards from the massive compensation plan he signed in 2018, and it’s worth nearly $800 million. The company disclosed on Thursday that Musk now has the option to buy 1.69 million of its shares because Tesla eclipsed $20 billion in total revenue over the last four quarters and a market capitalization of more than $100 billion — the first in a series of tandem milestones Tesla must hit for Musk to realize the full value of the plan.
Tesla’s stock price was $805.81 when the markets closed on Thursday, meaning those shares are worth about $1.36 billion. But Musk only has to pay a $350.02 per share “strike price” to get them, according to the agreement, or a total of about $591 million — meaning he could net around $770 million depending on when he pulls the trigger.
If Tesla’s stock price keeps going up, and the company hits additional revenue goals, Musk could wind up collecting around 20.3 million new shares of Tesla at that strike price, clearing a path for him to collect tens of billions of dollars or more.
Musk does not collect a salary at Tesla, and the company originally categorized the compensation plan — which replaced one from 2012 — as an “at-risk performance award” that “ensures [Musk] will be compensated only if Tesla and all of its shareholders do extraordinarily well.” Musk is worth around $40 billion on paper already, but has downplayed his personal wealth. He repeatedly points out that he reinvests a lot of the money he makes back into his own companies and is relatively cash poor. But he also borrows against his Tesla holdings and puts that money into his companies as well, so the more of the company he owns, the more money he could have access to in the future.
Confirmation of the award was tucked inside Tesla’s annual “proxy filing,” a document that lays out what shareholders should expect at the company’s annual meeting. This year that meeting will take place on July 7th, according to the filing. While many companies have been holding online-only shareholder meetings during the pandemic, Tesla says it will hold an in-person event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California in addition to a webcast. The company is leaving room for that to change, though.
“[W]e will continue to monitor public health and travel safety protocols required or recommended by federal, state and local governments. If necessary or advisable to protect our personnel and stockholders, we will change the date, time, location and/or format of the 2020 Annual Meeting,” the company writes.
Shareholders will have seven proposals to vote on at that meeting, the first three of which are from Tesla. The first is to reelect Elon Musk and Tesla chairwoman Robyn Denholm to the board of directors, and to approve the recently-announced appointment of Hiromichi Mizuno. The second is to approve compensation for Tesla’s executives. The third is to reappoint PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as Tesla’s auditor.
Proposal four is from shareholder James M. Danforth, who wants Tesla to start spending money on advertising — something Musk has famously avoided. Danforth says Tesla should “spend at least $50/car produced to advertise its products/services in order to increase brand and product awareness and interest, achieve other goals set forth in the supporting statement below and to help mitigate and/or reduce harm to Tesla’s goals, objectives, reputation and finances.”
Danforth says advertising “became necessary the moment Tesla announced in Q1-19 that it would shut down retail stores and start focusing solely on website based sales instead.” He says Tesla ads could “mitigate and dilute substantial FUD (“Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt”) and misinformation campaigns sponsored by competitors and detractors worldwide and steer the narrative more favorably,” and “increase knowledge and support for climate damage avoidance worldwide.”
“Tesla’s call to action via advertisements will ring loudly and credibly with billions of consumers, many of whom who don’t know who Tesla is at all. This call to action has never been more necessary or important than right now,” he writes.
Tesla disagrees, and is recommending shareholders vote down the proposal. “While we welcome stockholder feedback, we also believe we have an experienced management team that is best situated to determine Tesla’s day-to-day business operations, including our sales and marketing practices and expenditures,” the company writes. Tesla also disagrees with Danforth’s assessment of the changes it made last year to its retail operations.
The fifth proposal comes from shareholder James McRitchie, who wants these votes to be measured by a simple majority — something he’s done repeatedly in the past. Tesla recommends voting it down.
Proposal six is for Tesla to scrap forced arbitration. It comes from impact investment firm Nia, which argues that forced arbitration “limits employees’ remedies for wrongdoing, keeps misconduct secret, precludes employees from suing in court when discrimination and harassment occur, and prevents employees from learning about shared concerns.”
“Continuing to rely on arbitration clauses when these protections may be removed, with retroactive implications, creates a long-tail risk for Tesla,” Nia writes. “Investors’ concerns about non-transparent working conditions, which allow for potential harassment and discrimination, are particularly pertinent to Tesla, which has faced allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.”
Tesla disagrees, and recommends shareholders vote against the proposal. The company defends its use of arbitration, and says Nia “does not state convincing support for a correlation between arbitration and harassment, discrimination, or limits on employee grievances generally.”
The final proposal comes from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd New York Province, who want Tesla to prepare a report about human rights violations at the companies it buys raw materials from. Tesla believes the Supplier Code of Conduct and Human Rights and Conflicts Minerals Policy on its website and the company’s annual conflict minerals report (the 2019 version of which was published Thursday) go far enough, and recommends shareholders vote against the proposal.
SpaceX's historic astronaut launch try draws huge crowds despite NASA warnings – Space.com
Despite warnings from NASA officials and the risks implied by the current pandemic, which has so far claimed over 100,000 lives in the U.S., approximately 150,000 people gathered on Florida’s space coast to watch SpaceX’s first attempt at launching astronauts to space yesterday (May 27).
SpaceX attempted to launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft with two veteran NASA astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center yesterday as part of the Demo-2 test flight to the International Space Station. Unfortunately, bad weather delayed the launch to no earlier than Saturday (May 30).
Despite the risks of the coronavirus pandemic (there have been over 52,000 cases and 2,300 deaths related to the novel coronavirus in Florida so far), stormy weather and a tornado warning, approximately 150,000 people traveled to watch the event. “We are still running cell phone data and other reports for possible additional insight, but the estimated number of viewers in person was 150,000,” Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism told Space.com in an email.
Full coverage: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 astronaut launch explained
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made a public announcement before the launch, urging people to do the exact opposite of what these visitors did: stay home. Bridenstine said that people should watch the launch virtually, as full launch coverage was available live on NASA TV and, by gathering and not social distancing, there is a risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Kennedy Space Center was not even open to visitors for SpaceX’s launch attempt yesterday, but its visitor center reopened to the public today (May 28). NASA scheduled the facility’s big reopening for after the SpaceX launch. But, as photos from the event show, people still came in droves and packed into Florida’s nearby beaches and the causeway, desperate to get a peek at the launch.
“Not many masks were sighted among the onlookers. Crowds were far smaller than for high-profile launches of the past and between the COVID-19 crisis and bad weather … NASA had urged spectators to stay away” and watch on TV. https://t.co/5JoeIUlDsE via @Florida_TodayMay 27, 2020
The crowds of spectators, who filled highway lanes, creating serious traffic jams on their drives home following the launch delay, were impressive. However, if this launch didn’t take place during a pandemic, approximately 500,000 people could’ve been expected on the space coast, Dale Ketcham, the vice president of government & external relations at Space Florida, told Space.com in an email.
Florida has recently begun to loosen its restrictions, originally imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, by reopening businesses and public spaces like beaches. It is yet to be seen how many people will return to Kennedy (which will by then be open to the public) this Saturday for the next launch date.
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