Friday, March 19, 2021

Garver Unchained, Part V

The March 7, 2021 telecast of “60 Minutes” included a segment on the women leading NASA's Project Artemis. Video source: 60 Minutes YouTube Channel.

Lori Garver is the biggest thorn in the backside of OldSpace.

The one-time Executive Director of the National Space Society, Garver is best known for her service as NASA Deputy Administrator during President Obama's first term.

Although she often shares the credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) with others for the revolution she unleashed on the NASA bureaucracy during those four years, Garver is the one who is lauded (or vilified) for ushering in the era of what is called NewSpace.

Not everyone is happy with the use of the terms “OldSpace” and “NewSpace.” I wrote a blog article about it in November 2013.

I wrote back then, “It's about a way of going about your business.”

OldSpace colluded with members of Congress to perpetuate lucrative NASA contracts using monopolistic business practices. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ATK (later, Orbital ATK, today Northrop Grumman) had Space Shuttle contracts, Constellation contracts, and now Space Launch System contracts.

NewSpace welcomes competition. They invest their own money, sharing the risk in a new program, not expecting the government to pay for all of it.

The definitions are not always pure. Today's NASA Public-Private Partnerships are government seed money hoping to grow a vibrant domestic space industry by planting seeds where new technology might grow. NASA assumes some of the risk, but the entrepreneur must invest as well, assuming some of the risk. The commercial enterprise may fail or fall, and so NASA may be blamed by members of Congress for wasting taxpayer dollars instead of just giving a “cost-plus” guaranteed-profit contract to a legacy aerospace company.

NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs began under President George W. Bush. The Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office opened in November 2005, more than three years before Barack Obama took office.

Garver served on the Obama administration's transition team, so she knew that the Bush administration had funded commercial cargo but not crew. NASA was to rely on Project Constellation, a classic OldSpace cost-plus program, for crew rotations some day to the International Space Station, although on paper Constellation was to be funded by ending the ISS in 2016. Go figure.

In March 2009, two months after Obama took office, media reports surfaced that Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) had pressured the Administration into dropping its preferred NASA Administrator candidate, Steve Isakowitz. Garver confirmed that in a March 18, 2021 tweet. She wrote, “He personally blocked Obama's extremely qualified candidate to force his own,” retired astronaut Charlie Bolden, who had been pilot on Nelson's tag-along Space Shuttle flight in January 1986.

Garver eventually succeeded in the cancellation of Constellation and the funding of commercial crew, but it was only after the Administration compromised with Nelson to fund another cost-plus program known today as Space Launch System. Congress underfunded commercial crew by 62% over the first three years of the program, while SLS fell years behind schedule and went billions over budget despite Congressional largesse.

After she left office in 2013, Garver was freed of her expectations to support Administration policy and speak her own mind. Which she does quite well.

I began that year the “Garver Unchained” series of blog articles, documenting the more public instances in which she spoke her mind about the space-industrial complex. The most recent was April 2016, when she exposed how the departing Bush administration's NASA staffers were less than forthcoming with Constellation performance data.

On March 7, 2021, the CBS News program 60 Minutes ran a segment about NASA's Project Artemis, which relies on SLS and NASA's Orion crew capsule to send astronauts to the Moon. The segment included interviews by Bill Whitaker with Artemis Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and Marshall Space Flight Center Director Jody Singer.

The segment was pretty much a puff piece until Whitaker introduced Garver, who had the audacity to tell the truth.

I would not have recommended the government build a $27 billion rocket when the private sector is building rockets nearly as large for no cost to the taxpayer.

When asked about the multi-year delays and cost overruns, Singer replied:

The Space Launch System, I'm proud to say, has work that's over 45 states and over eleven hundred vendors, so the Space Launch System is a national vehicle. That means jobs. That means that across the nation, for the SLS alone, there's over twenty-five thousand people that have jobs.

Classic OldSpace.

It's not about efficiency. It's not about innovation. It's not about the destination.

It's about workfare.

Nelson and other members of Congress told us just that ten years ago, when they unveiled the Space Launch System design. One politician after another marched up to the microphone to brag about saving jobs in their district or state.

Garver described the SLS program as “socialist,” which seemed to surprise Whitaker. When he sought clarification, Garver replied:

You will plant the potatoes in March. You will build your rocket in my district.

Garver was referring to edicts issued in the Soviet era that required crops to be planted at a certain time of year to meet quotas, regardless of agricultural reality.

While NASA has spent the last ten years designing and building a rocket that has yet to launch, SpaceX has matured the Falcon 9, bound together three into the Falcon Heavy, and with its own money is test-firing (and blowing up) Starship prototypes in Texas.

The SLS core stage finally had a successful full-duration test fire yesterday in Mississippi. The stage may be shipped to Kennedy Space Center by the end of April. But most observers think the Artemis 1 uncrewed test flight won't be until sometime in 2022.

$20 billion can buy a lot of potatoes.

Prior “Garver Unchained” articles:

Garver Unchained September 10, 2013

Garver Unchained, Part II January 3, 2014

Garver Unchained, Part III December 4, 2014

Garver Unchained, Part IV April 26, 2016

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