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Rumor: Senior NRO Official Leaving

In what may be an indicator of declining morale at the National Reconnaissance Office, two very good sources say prominent NRO official Pete Rustan is leaving the agency soon. I hear at least one other senior NRO official has been forced into early retirement. Given the circumstances of the person's departure I won't identify the person without more information.

Rustan, something of a legend in the aerospace world, is best known for sketching out the details of the Clementine missile defense mission on the back of a napkin and seeing it through to the final act of crashing the spacecraft into the moon only 22 months later. The spacecraft [pictured] tested an optics payload for what was then the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. In the process, Clementine proved that there is ice in the moon.

A demanding boss, Rustan was recently promoted to handle the "ground enterprise" at the NRO, meaning he was to oversee the enormous shift in culture and practice at the spy satellite agency away from building the world's best sensors and satellites to ensuring that the data from them could be manipulated and shared with relative ease.

Rustan had led the NRO's science and technology work as director of advanced systems and technology. Before that, he headed the agency's Small Satellite Development Office. In that position he proved a tenacious supporter of Operationally Responsive Space, the idea that smaller and less complex satellites and launch systems could provide excellent capabilities for less money and be deployed faster.

Several years ago, Space News honored Rustan as one of the 100 top aerospace figures "who made a difference."

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