WASHINGTON ? Jeff Hanley, the top manager of NASA?s marked-for-cancellation Constellation program at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, has stepped down to become associate director for strategic capabilities at JSC, according to NASA officials.

In his new position, Hanley will be tasked with retaining ?as many of JSC?s human space flight core competencies as possible during the Constellation transition and [space shuttle] phase out,? NASA spokeswoman Lynnette Madison told Space News May 26. Madison said Dale Thomas, currently the deputy program manager for Constellation, will serve as acting program manager.

"I've been advised by [headquarters] that my services as [Constellation program manager] are no longer required, effective immediately," Hanley wrote in a May 26 e-mail sent to the Constellation program's senior staff. "Dale Thomas will be Acting PM until something more formal is issued from [NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate]."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who was testifying before the House Science and Technology Committee when Hanely's e-mail went out, was asked by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) during the hearing whether it was true the program manager had been removed from his post.

"That is probably correct," Bolden replied. "It is not an action that I took. It was an action taken by the Exploration Mission Directorate head Doug Cooke and the Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats. I have been in consultation with them about that. My understanding is that they were to get together with him this morning."

NASA has spent about $10 billion on Constellation, a 5-year-old effort to replace the retiring space shuttle with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for lunar missions. NASA proposed canceling Constellation in its 2011 budget request, though the agency is currently refining a plan to continue development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle ? a key component of Constellation ? for use as an emergency lifeboat at the international space station.

Bolden told the House Science and Technology Committee during the May 26 hearing that NASA would spend about $4.5 billion on the restructured Orion program.