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SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann, Elon Musk's fourth worker on the area firm, plans to retire

SpaceX Vice President for Construction and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann (left), former NASA director for manned space travel William "Bill" Gerstenmaier (right).

Source: NASA

CNBC, Vice President of Construction and Flight Reliability at SpaceX, is retiring, has learned about CNBC and has begun transferring his role to William "Bill" Gerstenmaier, the former NASA official who joined the company a year ago.

Koenigsmann said he had been thinking about retiring and that it was the right time to hand over the reins to Gerstenmaier. This emerges from a memo in late January presented by CNBC to SpaceX employees.

SpaceX did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Koenigsmann, a Germany-born aerospace engineer who joined Elon Musk in 2002 as the fourth technical assistant and has directed many of SpaceX's launches and missions. He received his doctorate in aerospace engineering and production from the University of Bremen and obtained his doctorate before joining SpaceX.

He was one of SpaceX's most respected executives and a jack of all trades: overseeing launch readiness, reviewing the quality of rocket engineering and development, analyzing risks, and identifying and resolving issues identified before and after launch.

SpaceX relied on the technical know-how of Koenigsmann from the first rocket, the Falcon 1, for which it designed the avionics. During the Falcon 1 launches, he served as chief launch engineer – a position that gives the launch director the final say on whether or not the missile is operational.

Hans Koenigsmann and his family stand in front of a Falcon 1 rocket in the company's launch facility on Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll.


Koenigsmann told NASA historians that he met Musk almost two decades ago during a rocket launch in California's Mojave Desert.

"He came to my house for the interview because we didn't have an office, nothing. We mostly did the interview in my living room, which I thought was really awesome because it tells you so much more when you go to someone's house . You can look at the pictures, the books, everything, "said Koenigsmann. "SpaceX launched around the same time."

In addition, Koenigsmann was responsible for introducing Musk to Gwynne Shotwell, who now serves as SpaceX's President and Chief Operating Officer. Koenigsmann and Shotwell previously worked together as engineers at the small satellite manufacturer Microcosm.

Koenigsmann was awarded NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2014, an award reserved for non-governmental persons as the highest recognition of the space agency.

His role will be filled by Gerstenmaier, who has been reporting to Koenigsmann since joining the company in February 2020. Gerstenmaier was previously Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA for almost 14 years, leading the agency's human spaceflight programs. That was the culmination of four decades at NASA.

Gerstenmaier was recently at the SpaceX Mission Control Center for the record-breaking launch of Transporter-1. He sat on the Fight Reliability Chair (also known as Mission Assurance) for the mission, one person familiar with the role told CNBC.

Koenigsmann will initially become a technical advisor, he said in the memo, and work part-time to support SpaceX's work on reliability and anomaly investigations. Koenigsmann described working for Musk as the honor of his life.

Hans Koenigsmann, VP Mission Assurance at SpaceX, speaks at the World Space Risk Forum (WSRF) in Dubai on November 4, 2016.

KARIM SAHIB | AFP | Getty Images

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