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tv   After Words Lori Garver Escaping Gravity - My Quest to Transform NASA...  CSPAN  July 24, 2022 1:00pm-2:01pm EDT

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laurie garver, it's a pleasure to be here with you. thank you so much. we're excited for your new book escaping gravity. and as you say in the subtitle that it's your quest to
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transform nasa, so i wonder if you can start with why in your view did nasa need to be transformed? thanks chris. it's a great to be here with you too. i have been at nasa in the 1990s working under the nasa administrator at the time dan golden who was actively and successfully in many ways working to transform nasa. i had previous to that worked for a grassroots organization. that was really interested in returning human space flight to more than just a handful of astronauts and nasa had sort of lost. it's way i think after the shuttle accidents when they didn't. have the ability to get more people into space for lower costs more reliably. that was the goal of the shuttle. so coming back to nasa as the deputy administrator in the obama administration. i thought it was very natural goal to want to continue that
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transformation process and president-elect obama happened to agree. so it says my quest because it's a memoir, but it's a lot of people's quest for decades and that's why i wrote the book. well, let's open that up for a minute. you say that nasa had lost its way. i mean that's sort of a big statement. what do you mean by that? and how did that happen? you know, we're talking primarily here about human spaceflight at nasa many many things at nasa go very well and in fact human spaceflight has in some sense then hugely important and transformational even since apollo, but the shuttle was supposed to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of human space transportation, and it had not we had only flown a couple of hundred astronauts since apollo in the 30 years since and we had lost two crews 14 people in a system. that was clearly never going to
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be reliable because it's design and it was never going to be cheap. so when i got out of college we were going to be sending people back to the moon and on to mars within decades at the end of apollo. they said we could land on mars in 1984. now that may have not ever been possible, but i think most people agree that human space flight post 1972 with our last steps on the moon had not created the advancements and progress that most people envisioned and certainly that the agency had intended to so what were the main problems there is that that there wasn't like in during apollo sort of a cold war adversary like the soviet union as a congress military industrial complex. i mean what were the sort of problems holding nasa back? do you think those are all parts of it? and we we know that we went to the moon to beat the russians and because of that we established a crash program, so we set things up in a race type
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of format and that meant we were pouring money in. to do things one time and that didn't build a sustainable program not a fault of nasa's because they were asked to win the race and they achieved that amazing, um accomplishment, but it did not create an environment where you could do things in a way that left a more sustainable less costly program and in fact it us three verse incentives. companies and congress who had developed capabilities people in their districts infrastructure needed to or were incentivized to use those very facilities, which were much overbuilt for the mission of the shuttle which was to reduce the cost of space transportation nasa. wanted to employ their contractors. they wanted to employ the people who worked in these institutions and just kept going that made
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the future programs expensive by design instead of doing things like we had in aviation where the private sector really drove the innovation and the government did assist with both technology advancements as well as this sort of anchor tenancy as we know it today, which we ultimately have been doing for human spaceflight, but in the early days, it was called the kelly airmail act the government just paid the airlines to carry the male and that allowed the airlines to invest in the capability because they had a customer. and once they had that customer they could go find more space transportation launches a lot more than just government payloads and people and yet we had not found a way to really leverage the government's investment to expand the market and that's the transformation
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that is allowing us. i think to make that change today and we'll get into sort of the dynamic of those public-private partnerships, but you know when we talk about programs like apollo in this in the space shuttle, i mean people forget that after apollo people kind of lost interest in space and maybe the shuttle was dynamic at first, but then people kind of lost interest in that and you're excellent book is sort of coming out at a time too where there are a lot of competing interest. there's a war in europe, there's inflation. the pandemic is still going on. i mean, what do you tell people about why they should care about space and why we should care about this era this history and space policy which is which was crucial and trans. been so many ways. but why is that a near view important? well the unique vantage of space has given us unbelievable returns as a society as humans, you know, we first went to space in the 50s, but what we gained
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as far as instantaneous communications and even looking back at our home planet has allowed us to completely change our perspective and learn new knowledge. when we sent humans we went to beat the russians, but we recognize that by doing that we were opening up potentially space for more purposes. i think the real problem for the government space program and why maybe between apollo and the shuttle their is less public support was less a public support as people didn't understand the purpose. we knew an apollo the purpose but after that, okay reducing the cost. that doesn't seem like a very great purpose. and of course nasa has tried to recreate a purpose of sort of the cold war with china today. i think we are really struggling for the value in my view and escaping gravity's title comes from this, you know, we were
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able to escape gravity launch things and people from the earth because we had a unified goal. is really hard to be gravity. smart people who have the same vision can do it and we haven't had that with human spaceflight that united vision to be able to see why the government should put in the public's money for that purpose private sector as it gets lower costs. we are seeing people have their own reasons to go to space but for the government the unique purpose in my view is benefiting society. so beyond just the things we get from robotics spacecraft. humans going to space is transformational. we know that the first photograph from the far side of the moon that was taken by astronauts called earthrise started the environmental movement lots of pictures have been taken from space of the
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earth but not by a human we go with our astronauts when they go to space and i believe there is plenty of wonderful robotic things to do as well, but for civilization humanity as a species there is no doubt that over the long term if we want to survive we need to be a multi-planetary and beyond species. so the very early beginnings of that are underway today, right? so let's sort of jump into the deep end of the narrative and one of the main tension points when you're coming into nasa as the deputy administrator the space shuttle is sort of honest last legs. there's this program called constellation. that's way over budget behind schedule talks about canceling it. i mean, what was the situation that you were walking into at nasa when you became the deputy administrator?
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yeah, that was a unique time in the space program. i had left nasa in 2001. and now in 2008 i had been asked before even being deputy to lead the transition team for the incoming obama administration and the human spaceflight program was in disarray. i should say not only we we were retiring the shuttle which i felt was the right decision. there wasn't really a lot of political. um difference of opinion on that the former george w. bush president had deemed that necessary if we weren't able to recertify the shuttle which would have been very expensive as you said the program constellation to replace it we found was off track it had in its first four years spent. over 8 billion dollars, but had been delayed five years if you were going to keep it going it was currently going to launch
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only after within their budget profile. the space station would have had to have been de-orbited. their plan was only able to be paid for if they de-orbited the space station. we knew they weren't going to really do that. they were trying to really just trick the next administration into giving more money. situation at least i did not wanting to lie to the president that just didn't strike me as something i should probably do and what i uncovered i i had to either uncover it or lie, and i found a workaround which was get a blue ribbon committee to look at the human spaceflight program populate it with bright minds who didn't have an ax to grind. we had a couple of wonderful astronauts the ceo former ceo of lockheed martin or magazine chair and they came up with the same scenario that we did. they uncovered the problem with the program and gave us some
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options for how we could move forward when we made a decision to go for that wasn't popular and as i outlined in the book, i took a lot of the blame, but the truth is so many people really did agree that we were an impasse and something had to be done. so explain for what was constellation. i mean, what did it consist of and why was it so badly managed? i mean what was going on there? so constellation was a government owned and operated program along the lines of follow the head of nasa at the time called it apollo on steroids, and it was established to do all things. it was supposed to start with a capsule. aldo ryan which we still have and a rocket called ares one that would take astronauts to the space station. after the shuttle retired, of course, the space station wasn't going to be there anymore unless they got a lot more money, but it's longer-term goal was to build an even larger rocket called the aries five that would
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take us back to the moon astronauts on the moon again. those were the only real three elements along with ground systems. and only the first two were funded but the review showed we would never get to the moon and again would would have needed the money from the space station and and the fault is really no different than what we're experiencing today. it was a cost plus program, really? initiated to continue the shuttle contracts to keep money flowing to the congressional districts and three to five billion dollars a year you'd keep going at that rate without making a lot of progress, you know, we did have women in apollo the ability to build up right away and when you can come in and do that you can succeed but at budgets today, that's not really possible and plus it's not really what we should be doing given the goal is to sustain progress. so here we are constellation has to carry the infrastructure of
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apollo. it's no one's fault. it's just the system was set up against doing those kinds of programs unless you get really really large amounts of money. so emblematic of what you're talking about why nasa needed to be transformed a lot of money going in but not a lot of progress who you stand up this commission normagen scene the former sea of lockheed martin endorses your view you bring this but with different options to the president and he supported the cancellation did did that surprise you? well, let's start that surviving. what did you make of that and that moment and once you knew that's what you were going forward. how did you prepare for that? because you knew that was going to set off a firestorm. yes, we had on the transition team. our report had pretty much aligned with what the augustine committee later came up with so having the augustine committee and our transition report both say, you know, this program
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consolation is not something you should keep investing in and the way to get humans back to space is through the private sector. i was very confident that that not only was the only way to go forward the best way to go forward, but the president agreed i had talked to him enough he agreed. plus it just makes sense. unless you're getting money, you know billions from the people who feel they might not be as competitive if that were opened up to others. so we were already to announce this actually in october of that year, but the white house was very concerned about keeping every vote for health care. we had a really close margin to have our 60 votes in the senate with with the democratic leadership and they decided to just incorporate the decision with the budget process. well that meant we had to involve many more people which in a way was a good thing because it meant the national economic council got involved and certainly the office of
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science technology policy omb, but nasa didn't want to do it and the budget process has to go through the administration but the agency prepares the budget. the budget the agency prepared kept consolation. it didn't add commercial crew. i tried to get them to change my my boss at the time the head of nasa. charlie bolden was just ready to do what the nasa people wanted to do and wasn't really listening and meetings with the white house even his last meeting with the president which i outlined in the book. he came away and told me how it went. it was very clear to me what the president would choose, but we got the answer a couple weeks after that and it surprised charlie did not surprise me, right? so this this is a memoir and as you're going through that experience of trying to cancel a major government program worth billions of dollars to some of the most entrenched interests of washington. you came under attack. i mean this became personal you
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open the book with a scene of being threatened where you received or a letter was sent to nasa with some white powdery substance and can you talk about that experience and what you endured going through all of that sure it was surprising and of course disheartening that i was attacked for putting something forward that i thought was very well studied that again in the 1990s the nasa major administrator at the time had supported indeed. we were already planning to launch cargo with the private sector through a program starter by the previous administration, but i think because the administrative nasa didn't agree and he was an astronaut and revered marine general. having a woman i was young 48 at the time that i went there. i didn't have a technical degree. i was the one to attack and
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being physically threatened as the sort of prelude outlines was very surprising and scary and i was strengthened by it in some ways because it made me realize these are not good people who are fighting there are fighting unethically illegally and some instances and of course the system is corrupt in many ways beyond nasa, you know, just this status quo of well, i'll scratch your back. you're scratch mine. that's that's not what our country. should be doing at the point where you had security. nasa security was alerted a few times to threats that somehow they would never tell me details but somehow or credible enough that i would have a security detail even walk me to my car in
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the nasa garage. that was the hardest because you know sort of like the calls coming from inside the house. these were people i hoped to lead to a better future and who i knew had been frustrated, but they also were very bought into the current programs and lots of lies and ugliness for and therefore people considered maybe if they got rid of me they could get rid of the problem and go back to how things were where we spent a lot of money and didn't go anywhere right? well you you mentioned charlie bolton who during this time was the nasa administrator. former astronaut marine corps general sort of beloved in the space community the aerospace community and just sort of generally you all had some significant differences and you write about in the book at times going around him in a lack of trust. so i wonder if you can talk a little bit about that
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relationship with him. yeah, i would have tried to not talk about much of this if the story could be told without it because charlie is a person who you know, i've we were very friendly certainly especially at the beginning. revered and understandably and deservedly so for many accomplishments he's made. he was someone who the administration first of all hadn't selected to be nasa administrator at first senator bill nelson, and he had flown on the space shuttle years before together and bonded and senator nelson fought as i outlined in the book to have charlie be administrator. that was after i had already been not named publicly but asked to serve as deputy administration and after the transition team had already really formulated the policy and the augustine report was underway. so charlie came in late and
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didn't agree with president's plan, which he liked to consider my plan, but i kept saying well, you know, it's really the president who we all work for who should be aligned. in fact, i understand. he asked rum emmanuel during his interview for head of nasa. could he pick his own deputy? and rom said? no, we've got lori garver to be deputy and charlie said, well, what if we don't agree on things and he said you both work for the president so we don't expect any problems. i i know that i'm seeing as the outlier, but i wasn't the outlier and my choice. as a deputy of a federal agency in your center confirmed is you know, do you follow your immediate boss or the president? and i was nominated by the president charlie couldn't find me. i'm told he tried a few times and that wasn't wasn't approved by the white house. so i did when it became clear
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charlie was working behind the scenes against the president not share everything i was doing with them and as i say in the book, my biggest regret is not being able to develop a trusting relationship with charlie and i really don't think he's bad. i think he was listening to the people the wrong people who were self-invested in the status quo and he's such a nice person. oh, well, they know, you know, he doesn't really question there. motives all right, so you come perhaps from a different background than the sort of traditional nasa astronaut in you have a name for them and in the book the space pirates. i wonder if you can talk about that. what are the space pirates? what are they represent? what's their philosophy? what who are they and the book was even called space pirates by the publisher at one point because i refer to them in the book as a people who raised me when i first came into the space community. i worked at a small nonprofit. it's called the national space
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society and their goal was to create a spacefaring civilization again post apollo thinking well, we thought space was going to be open to more of us than a handful of astronauts and the way to do that is expand beyond just government owned and operated program seem very logical to me, but it didn't seem logical to the people getting the billions. so we i refer to them as pirates because they our controversial they are depicted throughout science fiction in many ways. sometimes as those who are mining asteroids, you know, where maybe the property rights aren't exactly known yet like pirates might and it just so happened that a couple of years ago when the trump administration started the space force senator ted cruz in a hearing said, you know, we need a space force because just like on the high seas you can run into pirates we might run into
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pirates in space. well elon musk immediately. just tweeted a pirate flag and it sort of stuck with a lot of us and you have to calm something in the book to not keep describing them every time so they don't really call themselves space pirates, but i identify them as such and so far. i think they like it, you know when at the time of the book there's someone maybe on the fringes you think they've become more mainstream now? well, most people now who are looking at this feel that i'm referring to elon musk and jeff bezos as the space pirates. well sure their latecomers, but the early space pirates i think are very much. they're starting companies. they're being successful. they were doing this in the 80s and 90s, but the technologies had an advanced yet the markets the money all the things you need along with the policies, which i did help drive those those space pirates. i think were merging the lines
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now in a lot of ways between traditionalists and sometimes they like to call themselves new space. i don't like to call new space because then you have old days and no one wants to be old space. so we really have i think in front of us. a future that nearly everyone knows requires it. all right, so, all right, you mentioned this earlier. let's talk about commercial crew program. want that was i mean, this is a controversial at the time even considered maybe radical program that started with trusting the private sector. okay, you can fly cargo supplies to the international space station, but nasa was going to say you're not going to fly or most precious resource our astronauts and now allowing the private sector to fly nasa's astronauts. i mean, that is a big deal. i mean so talk about how that sort of the history of that the reluctance to move forward with it and how you ultimately
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overcame that well, the commercial crew program is certainly the thing that i am most known for and probably most proud of as well, but it didn't start with me it started as i mentioned in the 1990s with dan golden trying to replace the shuttle with private sector that ended though and the next two nasa administrators developed programs for government own and operated systems. that made this very difficult for the status quo to accept what was called commercial cargo could have just easily been expanded. in fact when they accepted bids for commercial cargo nasa had a section. they called d clots d if you wanted a bid to launch people spacex was the only one who bid on it. this was right before i arrived on the transition team. so we were putting together the
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stimulus budget at the time. we were in a recession in 2008 2009 and we were asked to put forward shovel ready projects that could really helps stimulate the economy and i called up spacex asked if they would hold to their bid for cots dee. it was just over 300 million dollars and i requested that money and stimulus from the administration. i didn't get it all got about half 150 million dollars and that was very controversial on. all because people started to realize in industry who were getting billions of dollars to build systems to do that if spacex were successful. they wouldn't have had that opportunity anymore or at least couldn't charge what they were so i i think we get caught up in how the battle became about safety and things that in reality or elon's personnality, but in reality, it was not unlike a lot of other things it
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was the existing. developers of these programs were fighting for their future, but it hasn't always gone smoothly. i mean the space shuttle retired and 2011 spacex is now finally finally flying crews, but it took almost 10 years so that to happen meaning there was a gap of a decade when there were no crude launches from us soil and we had to depend on russia to do it in the second provider boeing still hasn't flown. crew so i wonder under this model. were you lucky because you had spacex? i mean, it seems like that. there's luck is a part of this. that's no question. there is no question that without spacex. this would not have worked as well. and as for the long time in between, we always knew there was going to be a gap because we we should have much earlier been starting programs and
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competitions to follow on the space shuttle when we got there in 09 officially the shuttle was supposed to end the next year we were able to add two more shuttles get you through to 11 and the program that we proposed for commercial crew was scope to cost six billion dollars over five years and that would be divided between two competitors. we knew we wanted competition. we didn't get six billion dollars in five years from congress congress cut the program by 40% over the first five years, so i'm not saying we have done it that much sooner, but i and i again do not want to take anything from spacex because they're the only ones who've made it so far, but there were other bitters. it is very possible that some of the other bidders had they gotten their money if spacex hadn't been there could have made it and i think they're there is now with a comparison of the large cost plus programs
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that nasa is still doing it's very clear. i'll take it's not a decade. we simply say it was a decade. almost nine years eight years. nine months of a gap and it would have been not just a gap in. launches from us soil it would have been a gap in human spaceflight if we'd have had to deorbit the shuttle and waited for the government systems. so i am often blamed for you know ending human spaceflight and i so i'm a little sensitive to it. we were in a bad spot. we're in a very bad spot and we should have been funding this program. everyone should have been thrilled to come up with this these matching funds to the private sector on schedule so that we gave it our best shot and we didn't do that. well, let's talk about spacex for a minute because they're so central to the book one of my favorite anecdotes in the book is one that i actually used in in my book that you told me
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about when spacex is approaching the station and they have a problem as they're getting close and you have so much writing on this company. this is before they were flying humans, but it was a version of the dragon spacecraft that would ultimately be evolved into a crude spacecraft. just tell us recount that story because it's such a great story. so because we had this commercial grow program first it was ahead of crew and it was very much going to be a situation where spacex needed to succeed their so that we would trust them carrying our very precious astronauts. spacex had of course failures delays and as had their competitor north of grumman then orbital sciences and this launch was supposed to be docking to the space station as you said the dragon capsule lost a couple thrusters after a successful launch and wasn't going to be
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able to dock i was at the cape happened to be getting together with the president of spacex after the launch. we had planned gwen shotwell, but with this problem, she said i'm in the op center. we're we got to work this we only we had less than an hour. i believe to work the system or the docking was not going to be successful each one of these would have been i thought a pretty big delay to crew being being allowed to dock and i went over to wait for her and found the two heads of nasa's human spaceflight program understandably there bill gerstenmeyer and mike suffradini standing in the back of the room. not at a console and i'd want to get out of the way had nothing to contribute technically and ask them what they were doing in the back and they were just watching spacex work through this problem and trying to solve the problem. they were talking to each other and i could overhear them. well, i would try this that and
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i'm saying maybe maybe i'll mention that to him. these gentlemen are just now we think they should work this out themselves. what happened was spacex figured it out in the nick of time and what i relay this as a moment when i really saw nasa embrace spacex the private sector this way of doing business all important things and these were two of the guys who had been someone opposed to having astronauts the transported commercially, they they were already well into the cargo mission. so i say it like it was watching grandparent with a child maybe fishing. whereas a parent. i'll say a dad might show them how to put the worm on the hook. help them cast but if they got something big they'd grab they'd grab a whole other fishing rod and reel it in these these guys like a grandparent. well, you know let's just watch
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let's just see how they do and they were really proud when they reel them in. so i do love that moment as well and it's moments like that. i think build up over time and their experience a builds the trust between nasa and the commercial sector over time and as a result of that there has been a cultural shift, i believe at nasa that you know gives much more trust. to the commercial sector, i mean what? i wonder if you can talk a little bit about that. it seems like you believe that from the very beginning, but you kind of need to prove it and what we're talking about is a huge sort of cultural change. so how did that ultimately happen? well, i think again me coming with a different perspective and wanting to make progress over the longer term that was sustainable. this was so clearly the only way to do it. so if you believe that building a big rocket is the goal then you want to do that and the
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government but i didn't believe that was the goal. i believe the goal was leaving our economy better off leaving our national security better off leaving society better off and if those are your goals then you need to go about it the how really is driven by the why and so for my why and i think for within the nasa space act of 1958 why? we needed to go about doing this in a way that left a better world behind and i truly believe that nasa is on that path, but i don't believe that every single program needs to be done this way. it should be based on again the purpose and for something like one of a kind unique say going to a moon of jupiter. you probably not going to get commercial companies bidding to do that in a fixed cost way. so question right now is when to use what sort of procurement
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mechanism to maximize the value for the taxpayer the ones who are paying right? so this paradigm of the public private partnerships or gets to the second part of your subtitle, and this is the launching of a new space age, which is a different paradigm where there's the government and private sector working together maybe with an international component, but we there's a lot of talk about heading toward a recession. there's a lot more faith. from investors in the space economy commercial spaces is cool thing. there's a lot of money that's been flowing into it. but but is it at the point where there is sort of a self-sustaining space economy? what happens if there is a downturn in the economy, how will that affect the new space age? well, there is a new space age in. much of the sector and that is largely driven by the fact that spacex has lowered launch costs so much we have now i think more than a hundred companies vying
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to be launching satellites and you know at different sizes and for less money, but let's face it. it's really driven by spacex still and when you can get things into space cheaper, you're going to come up with more and more important things to do and that is indeed what's happened? so the investments around space the returns and the space markets interests is largely to do with non-human spaceflight human space like gets a lot of attention. we have suborbital launches with jeff bezos and richard branson both having gone to space themselves last year with their with their companies. and of course you have the astronauts now going with spacex and hopefully soon to be going with boeing that is a new space age. there's just no question. we consider the first space age and lots of things differentiate it it was about the cold war it was very much associated with
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the military. it was all white men. so this new space age is about a lot of things for me. it is about getting sort of back to our roots of spaces another amazing resource that we can use to help society. well, let's talk about that. i mean particularly the space tourism aspect because it has its roots and shuttle. i mean the space shuttle was supposed to be flying private citizens all the time. is it going to fly so frequently the nassau could not fill all the seat with professionally trained astronauts. and of course christa mcauliffe the teacher from new hampshire was on a challenger in 1986 when it exploded in that program basically went away and now it's being resurrected by these private industry. there's a lot of criticism of this because it's a lot of rich white men who are going up as the first space tourists. we're seeing some of that change, but but i think you talk
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about that in the book and talk about some of the benefits of that. so, i wonder if you can just sort of open that up for us here now. sure. i do equate it a bit to the early days of aviation. and again, it's something that's risky. it's something that the private sector in aviation got into right away and were maybe in the barnstorming era now for space and rich people paid to go on planes, although i know they weren't all rich because planes didn't cost that much to fly. but a lot of them died and they did start charging money. and of course that created a huge industry that the us captured a huge part of that market and has benefited from so economically the returns to new businesses that really could grow to be important is is something that nations want to do and we shouldn't miss out on this one. i question whether we want i don't agree with all the
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personal policies of these billionaires, but they could just be spending their money on their own personal gains if they wanted and they are working in an industry where there is. already in the case of spacex a huge economic return to our nation because we are launching satellites. now the us is has the largest market share for satellite launches worth billions and in the late 1990s. we were launching no commercial satellites the chinese the french and the russians were launching them off. so there's economic gain and there is also over the longer term as society goes out and eventually if we survived long enough are able to expand outward. what kind of values do we want when we go out and i think for a long time the group of space pirates that raised me part of this has been wanting to make sure there are modern policies
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that are equitable that span outward along with humanity as a species. so you talk about the economic benefits of it aren't there also. some social aspects to it. they're only been about 600 or so people who have been to space. i mean you've talked to a lot of astronauts, you know, they talk about the transformative experience. do you think there are any benefits of just having more people from different backgrounds go to space and what we talk about that a lot and within the space community as you know, there's this thing called overview effect that frank wright white wrote about years ago. i no, frank, and it's a fabulous thing and it was always surprising to me how astronauts were overwhelmed upon the return about seeing the earth from space and they changed their perspective about the environment and about working across borders because there were no lines on the map. so it's a little weird. have you ever not flown the airplane? there's no lines, but it is a
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value the more people who get to see it and the more people who experience that from different backgrounds and can convey it. i don't know about you, but when william shatner returned from his brief launch last year, i thought he was eloquent about his reaction to having spent a few minutes so far in the view and that perspective from space that we don't select astronauts for you know, their vision or their ability to communicate the importance and value of all of this. we select them for the reasons of being able to withstand the technical rigor and so forth of being in space and so more people going poets artists, journalists, perhaps teachers. i mean it is ironic that nasa sort of drove early on this.
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recognition that there were people non-astronauts who could contribute by going to space but really hunkered down. i mean the challenger accident with the teacher in space on board. it's a deep deep wound at the agency and then columbia coming again just made it made it clear. we weren't going to be flying many more astronauts much less non-astronauts, but the russians had taken over space tourism and a dozen or so people have flown on the soyuz launch vehicle from bikaner kazakhstan through the russian program. and of course that ultimately plays a huge part in the book because we had to count on the soyuz after the columbia launch and because we had to count on it after the shuttle retired, right, so i want to talk a minute about sort of the diversity of experiences. we should note to that after challenger. they were going to send a teacher first and then a
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journalist. they were absolutely what they were next and they were down to their group of finalists, but we talked about the threats that you face, but there's also just sort of you know on a day-to-day basis, i think, you know sort of the misogyny and being a woman in a industry dominated by men at nasa and in the aeros. history in general you have worked hard to combat that with the fellowship that you've founded. i wonder if you can talk a little bit about that and also, you know has there been a shift is is the landscape changing since when you were at nasser when you were sort of growing up in the aerospace industry. growing up in the aerospace industry in the 80s and 90s. i there were very few women, but i i felt i was fairly treated. i was on the nasa advisory council under dan golden in the
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mid 1990s. i think i was at least a decade younger than the next oldest person and i was certainly the only woman. but of course there was a lot of old school objectification sexual harassment and and just you know both. a micro and macro inequities that we experienced and there were few of us, but we bonded and we started groups and it was really when i got to be more senior in my career and i was responsible for making decisions that i got the most pushback because i think men and all of us really are not a custom to taking direction from a women now men always come back on less than my wife. like that's the dynamic, you know. oh, i it's not because you're a woman. i love my wife. i love my secretary like, yeah,
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but why don't we have a woman president? um, why don't we have very many female ceos? we don't associate. power and assertiveness and strength with female characteristics and so as i was coming in and making decisions that weren't going to be popular because of how the system was structured and my boss who was a man didn't couldn't really explain it or want to support it. i believe that being vilified had a lot to do with fact that i was a woman and i was attacked with a lot of gender language you you can always tell when somebody is you know, she this she doesn't deserve this and i'm oh, you know, you must be on on your period you must be oh my gosh, many many horrible things. i don't believe it was actually about that in the sense that they were really just didn't
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want to change but it was easy. i was an easy target and i cared enough about the fact that more people's opinions coming in that were different than what had been contributing toward our leadership and our vision in space was so important that i did start this fellowship about seven years ago when a dear friend and mentee of mine died at the age of 36 of cancer the brook owens fellowship has now 50 fellows a year with internships in the aerospace community. i think aerospace community has embraced this program and we followed it on with another one called the patty grace smith fellowship, which is for black collegiate students who are wanting their careers in aerospace. so together, i think we are seeing a shift. but the important thing for me will be when they're ideas, even if they don't conform to the status quo are considered
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equally when they get in leadership positions, that's where i think we all have some work to do. so returning to the tension of going up against the status quo. when you're fighting this fight over constellation and the president backs it and says we're going to cancel it and yet there's this compromise which produces a rocket that's known as the space launch system, which as we're talking right now is on the pad at the kennedy space center. i want you. i wonder if you can talk about what happened there. the real debate was between human spaceflight. are we going to turn everything over to the private sector or can nasa keep its share and the administration because they were wanting to put their focus on things like getting health care reform past. totally understandable didn't really fight for the nasa budget as proposed.
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once the president selected it. it was hard without nasa administrator really rying point it was hard without key democrats on the hill. carrying the president's water. and so we folded i say in the book. we had a full house. they had a pair of twos and we walked away from the table. that's my view what the status quo wanted to do was can was build big rocket and do it with the government contract and with existing contractors and the obama administration decided if we could carve out commercial crew some technology programs some earth sciences. everyone wanted to protect the web telescope we'd agree. that the government could have a big launch program and the orion capsule could continue those programs have cost us. together with their ground systems around 40 billion dollars since we made that deal they were supposed to be launched by the end of 2016 and
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they haven't launched yet here in 2022. as you said they're currently on the pad hoping for a successful test. they will then go back to the hangar come back out for a launch first. test flight no people on board. august at the earliest that is in comparison after 40 billion dollars to commercial crew which we have flown now five crews to the space station and spacex got two and a half billion dollars private citizens and we have flown private. they have flown private citizens on dedicated missions. i mean the it is one of these things where yeah, it took a while, but we came out of gates screaming fast because of the success of spacex and now these hopefully boeing soon and the suborbital launches with blue origin and virgin galactic, but if you look at the comparison between the cost plus contracts and the what we call commercial crew. the return on investment for the
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public it's not comparable since then the private sector spacex and blue origin have launched have invested their own money in big launch vehicles. so those aren't comparable vehicles ss orion much bigger. gonna be able to take more payload farther away. but spacex and blue origin have vehicles spacex flying one of them the falcon heavy that can go almost as heavy a payload to low earth orbit. as will be in this vehicle that costs 40 billion dollars. i mean that that's just it is very frustrating for me because we didn't have to do it. that was a that was something that in 2010 2011 when this deal was made it was obvious. it was obvious. that wasn't what we should be doing with that money and it's hurtful because tens of thousands of people have dedicated their lives and careers to doing it and it's not
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their followed. of course, it's exciting. we've built a big rocket, but it doesn't leave you behind anything. that's sustainable. the nasa ig says each launch will cost 4 billion dollars. that's an addition to the 40. we've already invested if taking aside the sunk costs. you can launch on a falcon heavy for around a hundred fifty million dollars. it's not human rated. but if we had put a program together to follow on commercial crew that allowed the private sector to partner to build bigger heavier vehicles. no doubt. that would have been more successful. nasa could have taken those tax dollars and invested in the things that we really need to be. expanding the horizons of people and leading like we did in the 1960s. so there's a lot in this book. there's for space fans a lot of great adventure and space stuff and space policy.
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it is a glimpse into how washington works entrenched interests politics and i think it you know could be taught in a business school as well. and of course that you are story. it's it's a memoir, you know of finding your way or combating and all those entrench and interests and a male dominated sphere, but what do you want people to take away from the book? think the takeaway and the reason i wrote it is because we have the ability and right now i'm very as our you know, nearly everyone on the planet aware that our own past inventions. are creating a situation that can make the earth uninhabitable in the future and with climate change about 80% of what we know about what's happening to our planet has come from the space program. there are incredibly valuable things to do with our space
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program and oftentimes, we see the billionaire saying, you know, well, we're doing this to get people off the planet to save earth. fair enough, but i'm not sure the timeline is going to work. so to me. we have a unique opportunity to use what has been a brilliant history of space exploration and development. to save ourselves and to do it in a way that can leave the planet better off we have an ability to use the technologies we have and new ways of setting goals and utilizing government to achieve things we simply must do now. we simply must and we wouldn't even know we were having this problems if we hadn't gone to space so we might as well use space to help. solve these these problems and
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nasa came across commercial crew at a time when the technologies were there and i think the technologies can be there if we put the right incentives in to help help the planet and people on it just a couple more minutes. i just one of us two quick questions. so, why did you leave nasa? i had been at nasa almost five years after being on the transition team. they had told me they would be replacing the head of nasa if the president was reelected but a few months in it became clear. they were not going to charlie and i again we got along but it wasn't very fair of me to be there continually being seen at least as opposing his policies and i wasn't looking but i got cold call from a headhunter looking for a game changer to run a major aerospace association and i knew i wouldn't leave nasa to go to industry or anything like that. this was the airline pilots
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union and they made me an authorized. i just loved it. i worked there for five years and i put a lot of what i learned about, you know running a major organization and making progress into that for a while. alright, so last question again going back to the subtitle that you wanted to transform nasa. that was your quest. did you succeed did you transform nasa? well, i try many times to make it very very clear throughout the book that i am not the only person who transformed nasa there was a huge group of people still is working on that but i would say yes, i would say nasa is transformed it's being transformed people have told me who are still there that it is a different place the people talk about cost plus contracts and now even the nasa administrator like they're a plague and it was
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sacrilege to say anything like that 10 years ago. laurie garver, thank you so much. the book is escaping gravity. it's been a pleasure talking with you. thank you chris. it's wonderful to talk to you.
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tiffany drayden is a mother world traveler and journalist whose work has been featured in the new york times vox marie claire playboy and salon among other outlets. she has published two nonfiction young adult books developing political leadership skills and coping with gun violence. she grew up in the united states and currently lives with her family in tobago. crystal a settle is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir secrets. we kept three women of trinidad, which was a finalist for the penn america emerging writer's award. her essays have been anthologized in a math is


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