Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lori Garver Leaving NASA

June 2, 1993 ... National Space Society Executive Director Lori Garver appears on C-SPAN to debate Space Station Freedom.

NASA Watch broke the news on August 5 that Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is leaving NASA.

Various media, including Florida Today, confirmed the report today.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and OSTP Director John Holdren issued statements today thanking Garver for her service.

According to Space News, Garver will take “the top staff job at the Washington-based Air Line Pilots Association.” Her final day at NASA is September 6.

Lori was one of the rare few to make the leap from space advocacy to space policymaking. I knew her when she was the Executive Director of the National Space Society. She left in 1998 to head the space policy office at NASA under administrator Dan Goldin.

Once the Bush administration took office in 2001, Garver went to the private sector as an aerospace management consultant. She attempted to raise money to fly herself to the International Space Station as the “AstroMom” but lost out to pop star Lance Bass.

Over the next decade, Garver consulted for various Democratic presidential candidates, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

How much Garver contributed to the Obama administration's space policy will be determined by future historians, but I suspect those historians will credit her with much of the organizational policy and cultural changes that attempted to end decades of bureaucratic inertia marked by two Shuttle orbiter and crew losses, a fundamental design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope, a space station delivered years late and billions over budget, and a boondoggle Constellation program that claimed to shoot for the Moon but in reality was a jobs program for the districts and states of key members of Congress.

During the last four years, NASA ended Constellation to save the International Space Station. The commercial cargo program was accelerated, and the commercial crew program funded to close the “gap” during which NASA would rely on Russia for ISS access. The commercial program began in 2004 under the Bush administration, but it was the Obama administration that made it a priority.

Congress underfunded commercial crew for years, extending NASA's reliance on Russia, and imposed the Space Launch System upon NASA to continue protecting “OldSpace” jobs. For the last three years, key people on Capitol Hill threatened to strangle commercial crew in the crib if SLS wasn't given highest priority — never mind that Congress to this day still hasn't given NASA a use for it. It was a frustrating compromise that Bolden and Garver accepted to save “NewSpace.”

Under Garver, NASA pursues unfunded Space Act Agreements with NewSpace companies to help the industry stand on its own. Perhaps the most historic will be the one quietly signed in March. NASA will partner with Bigelow Aerospace to “facilitate and explore, in a manner that meets both national and commercial goals and objectives, joint public/private arrangements that would continue to build the ability for humans to live and work in space through the expansion of exploration capabilities beyond low Earth orbit.” That implies a commercial lunar program, the next logical step beyond commercial cargo and crew. Congress may not fund a lunar landing mission, but the private sector might if NASA and enough other clients come forward.

NASA has embraced social media, with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other online services. NASA now hosts tweet-ups for Twitter users who win online contests; they get a behind-the-scenes look at space center operations and VIP treatment at launches. The mainstream media may ignore NASA, but under Garver NASA reaches out directly to space advocates through the Internet.

In one of her final public appearances, Lori spoke at last month's NewSpace 2013 hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation. In her remarks (which so far haven't surfaced in an online recording), Garver referred to unnamed key members of Congress who try to block space progress to protect “pork” — she used that word — for their districts and states.

UPDATE August 11, 2013 — Lori Garver's keynote speech at NewSpace 2013 is now on YouTube:

Click the arrow to watch Lori Garver's speech.

I was shocked that she was so blunt. The cardinal rule in politics is to never bite the hand that feeds you. But it may have been that Lori already had her departure planned, and found herself in a friendly forum where she could say what she's been thinking all these years.

Garver appeared on C-SPAN over the years in various capacities. I've included at the top and bottom of this article two appearances from the 1990s.

And if by chance Lori reads this ... I sure hope you're going to write a tell-all book so the public knows just how badly Congress screws up America's space program.

October 25, 1998 ... NASA Office of Policy & Plans Acting Associate Administrator Lori Garver appears on C-SPAN to discuss John Glenn's Space Shuttle flight.

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