NASA shook up its space shuttle program Wednesday, creating new positions and reassigning managers five months after space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

“This is a critical time for the agency and the shuttle program, and I believe these changes and additions to my staff prepare us to return to flight as soon as possible ... as safely as possible,” space shuttle program manager Bill Parsons said in a statement.

NASA officials have said they plan to have the space shuttle fleet flying again by early next year. The fleet has been grounded since the Feb. 1 Columbia accident.

NASA officials are awaiting a final report from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to help guide the agency as it makes preparations to return to flight.

The changes enacted by Parsons, who became space shuttle manager in May after Ron Dittemore resigned, create an acting deputy manager position that will be filled by Wayne Hale, NASA’s space shuttle launch integration manager at the Kennedy Space Center.

Hale’s responsibilities included overseeing launch preparations and having the final say on whether the shuttle should launch. He had barely been in the job when Columbia broke apart.

Steve Paulos was named acting manager of the Orbiter Project Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The position has responsibilities similar to those held by Ralph Roe, who was NASA’s chief engineer as manager of the Space Shuttle Vehicle Engineering Office. Roe is moving to Langley Research Center in Virginia to head a new safety and engineering division being created by NASA.

Edward Mango will be deputy manager of the Orbiter Project Office, replacing Patricia Petete.

John P. Shannon has been named acting manager of flight operations, a new position.

John Muratore has been named manager of the Space Systems Integration Office, which was headed by Lambert Austin. Austin will serve as a technical adviser in the office.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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