A top NASA engineering manager who was on the crew for last year's flight of the shuttle Discovery has been relieved of his duties and reassigned to the agency's Engineering and Safety Center in Virginia, sources told NBC News on Monday.
However, the sources said the reassignment of Charles Camarda from his post as director of engineering at NASA's Johnson Space Center had nothing to do with any safety concerns about Saturday's planned launch of Discovery on its second "return to flight" test mission.
In an e-mail to the colleagues he is leaving behind, Camarda said he could not "be a party to rumor, innuendo, gossip and/or manipulation to break someone's career." He said that he "refused to abandon my position" on the management team for Discovery's upcoming mission — and told higher-ups that "if I would not be allowed to work this mission ... I would have to be fired from my position, and I was."
The e-mail did not go into specifics, however.
Reports about the reassignment and the e-mail came to light on the Web sites of CollectSpace and Florida Today on Monday. Sources contacted by NBC News confirmed that Camarda had been relieved of his position at Johnson Space Center, and verified the authenticity of the e-mail message. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case officially.
In an internal announcement, NASA said Steve Altemus, deputy director under Camarda, would take on the director's role. There was no immediate word on Camarda's new duties at the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, a facility that was set up at Langley Research Center in Virginia in the wake of the 2003 Columbia tragedy.
Camarda, a former engineer at Langley, was selected as an astronaut in 1996 and made his first spaceflight last year as a mission specialist on Discovery's STS-114 mission. Among his chief duties was the supervision of cargo transfer between Discovery and the international space station.
A little more than a week ago, Discovery was cleared for launch as early as Saturday, even though NASA's safety chief and chief engineer said further changes should be made to the external fuel tank's foam insulation before the shuttle flew again. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin determined that the risks to Discovery's crew were acceptable, and the two officials decided not to appeal the decision.
Even in the highly unlikely event that foam debris damaged the shuttle so much that it could not return to Earth, Discovery's crew could take shelter on the space station and wait for the arrival of a rescue shuttle, Griffin said.