Cape Canaveral, Fla. In an abrupt shake-up prompted by the Columbia disaster, the chief of the Kennedy Space Center is being moved to another NASA installation to strengthen its engineering department for the shuttle fleet's eventual return to flight.
Roy Bridges, a former shuttle pilot who has directed the space center for six years, said Friday that NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe asked him this week to take charge of the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
"We are going to be looking at the Columbia accident report to see how we might bring some independent engineering talent to bear on the return to flight," Bridges said.
He will take over in August, replacing Del Freeman, who had been serving as acting center director for the past year until a permanent director was found. Freeman, 62, will retire.
A NASA engineer at Langley was among those involved in a flurry of e-mail discussions in the days before Columbia's Feb. 1 breakup over Texas.
The engineer raised the possibility of damage to the spaceship's thermal protection system from a flying piece of foam during launch. His concerns were forwarded Freeman, whose staff was assured by Johnson Space Center in Houston that the shuttle was fine.
Bridges, 59, said O'Keefe indicated to him a need for better engineering integration at Langley.
Bridges said it would be premature to discuss any future changes at Langley involving shuttle safety.