Exit Interview: Lori Garver on NASA’s Controversial Plan to Move an Asteroid

By Corey S. Powell | August 16, 2013 11:55 pm

A conversation with NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver is always livelier than her title would suggest. Her enthusiasm for all things space is immediately evident, and she always seems on the verge of speaking more candidly than her position supposedly allows. She’s not entirely immune to the carefully crafted talking points typically served up by high-level government officials, but the punctuations in her speech—“wow” when excited, “frankly” when frustrated—strip away the veneer.

Asteroid mission

Asteroid Redirect Mission–one current concept illustrated here–would latch onto a small asteroid and then use high-power solar electric propulsion to haul it to near-Earth space. (Credit: NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab)

Lately, Garver has been using plenty of both words as she drums up support for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, a proposal to send a robotic spacecraft to a small near-Earth asteroid (perhaps about 15-20 feet wide), tow it back to a location near the moon, and send astronauts to study it. The concept has sparked a lot of public excitement, but also a fair bit of skepticism on Capital Hill, where the House Science Committee voted to block funding for the program.

I questioned Garver at length about the mission, and why it has sparked such diverse reactions. A few days later, I found out that our conversation, shared here, was actually something of an exit interview: On September 6, Graver announced, she will be leaving NASA to take over as the head of the Air Line Pilots Association. I will miss her role at NASA, as I imagine will many inside the agency. [For more space and astronomy news, follow me on Twitter: @coreyspowell]

Why grab an asteroid and move it? How does that fit in with NASA’s larger strategy?

To us asteroids have been scientifically fascinating celestial objects for a long time. We know they’ve been critical to our planet and life on it in the past. They are a potential resource for longer-term space development. And they serve as a destination on our way for human expiration of Mars and beyond. For all these reasons, when we outlined a strategy for human space development, asteroids were a natural target.

As we were developing that strategy, we were looking at ways to advance all our objectives. The Asteroid Redirect Mission gets us a much bigger asteroid sample sooner than we’d be able to otherwise, lets us enhance our observational capability, gives us a destination to leverage already existing investments in Orion/SLS [the new NASA space capsule and Space Launch System rockets] and solar-electric propulsion [an extremely efficient, low-thrust way to accelerate a spacecraft]. Being able to separate the robotic aspect of this mission from the human part, from a risk perspective, is also a very elegant solution.

So when this mission formulation was brought to us we were very excited to take it forward. It is extremely well-aligned with our overall scientific, technological, and human space flight objectives. It’s just a natural for us.

This basic concept emerged from a 2012 study by the Keck Institute for Space Studies. How did it come to your attention and become a NASA priority?

The first time I heard of it was about a year and a half ago from the folks working on Keck. The human space flight program folks here were looking for how we could formulate a mission to go to an asteroid. Then we heard about this configuration, and the human space flight people were asking, “Well, can we do this? Will this fulfill what we’re trying to do?” I said, “Are you kidding? You can demonstrate we can move an asteroid? Yeah. That works.” It was a very exciting time.

The long-pull intent was for astronauts to go to an asteroid for some hundreds-of-days mission, but the medical community is not prepared to allow astronauts to do that yet. The Asteroid Redirect Mission allows us to make progress [by bringing the asteroid into near-Earth space, where it would be only a few days away]. This mission has the added benefit of utilizing solar electric propulsion. We were already doing a solar electric propulsion demonstrator. Instead of just demonstrating it why not go somewhere? [The mission would use solar-electric propulsion as the engine for moving the asteroid into an orbit around the moon.]

ARM concept

Garver’s travel-time argument: Towing an asteroid into a “distant retrograde orbit” near the moon gives astronauts a new destination that is accessible via a short-duration space mission. (Credit: NASA)

How much is this mission about testing technologies for asteroid deflection—at least implicitly, even if that isn’t the overt goal?

The primary aspect is human exploration. We’re spending $3 billion a year on SLS/Orion; they’re going to L2 [CORRECTED: an equilibrium point about 37,000 miles beyond the moon]. This mission is a first, very worthwhile thing for them to do while they’re there. That’s sort of the core rationale. Then you look at it scientifically, and we can advance the time when we can have big asteroid samples. That is huge, both for studying the origins of the solar system as well as how asteroids might be utilized for space resource development.

And then you get to the idea—wow—as we understand these near-Earth asteroids better we’ll know how to manipulate them potentially for the future. No question, if you were just going about doing that you wouldn’t necessarily send humans. But if you already have a human mission, you can learn a lot more about asteroids, which ultimately will be beneficial for learning to manipulate them.

What do you make of the Congressional resistance to the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and how do you think you can get past that?

I’m optimistic that we will eventually be able to do that. Frankly, I’m also disappointed that we have not seen the support yet. The fact that a science committee of Congress who had, I think, two of their first three hearings focused on detecting asteroids and the importance of that to citizens of this planet does not see that the Asteroid Redirect Mission is a valuable thing to do is a little disconcerting. We have had full, very detailed briefings with our top human space flight, technology, and science people on Capital Hill these past few months explaining the mission and how it ties into our plans. I think there are just, right now, some things that because of the partisan nature of this Congress we are not going to be able to convince them.

This is going to be a debate that goes on over the next few months as the NASA budget goes to the Senate on the authorizing side, as it goes to the appropriators in both the House and Senate. We will continue to give as much information as we can about the importance of asteroids, and about how this mission ties in with so many of the things we’re doing, to have the greatest possible return from our taxpayer investment in space exploration.

NASA had no trouble getting support for OSIRIS-REx, which will collect a sample from asteroid Bennu around 2019. Why is the Asteroid Redirect Mission so controversial?

It’s a partly, as I said, a reflection of the partisan nature of where we are now. But keep in mind that OSIRIS-REx is a competed mission, part of the Discovery Program. NASA created Discovery 20 years ago to address issues like we’re having now with this asteroid mission: The political nature of getting funding through is not conducive to selecting which type of mission should be done. We were able to take politics out of the process by saying, “Okay, you acknowledge that we should be doing this cadence of missions, at these levels of funding, over this period of time. Now we are going to competitively select them with peer review.” For science that has worked extremely well.

Human space flight doesn’t have that peer review process, so human spaceflight programs get a level of scrutiny—which, frankly, they deserve, because they’re more money and they are based on more geopolitical concerns and so forth. But in this case, SLS and Orion are already approved. You’re spending the $3 billion already and you’re really saying you don’t want to spend the extra $200, $300 hundred million a year it would take for a few years to do this valuable thing [the Asteroid Redirect Mission] with those? That’s what I find challenging. Let’s be honest about the debate and what this mission will accomplish within what we’re already doing.

What about the support within the scientific community? What’s the reaction been like there?

I hear some scientists saying, “Uh-oh. Here’s this, what looks like it could be a science mission and we didn’t get to peer review it.” So you have some of those concerns, too. And I’m saying, “Well wait a minute. This isn’t coming out of science budget. This is a human space flight mission.” The Asteroid Redirect Mission doesn’t have a natural constituency, other than asteroid detection folks. And let’s face it—that’s a $20 million community at this point. But one of the things I like to tell the scientists or ask them is, “Okay, so if you were a lunar scientist in 1961, were you excited—did you benefit from Apollo?” We weren’t going to get the funding for Apollo just from science, but here we got this incredible understanding of the moon based on human space flight. I think the same will happen with the asteroid mission.

Asteroid Redirect Mission

A small near-Earth asteroid slips into the maw of the Asteroid Redirect Mission in this conceptual illustration. An alternate proposal would harvest a similar-size boulder off a larger asteroid. (Credit: NASA)

What is the mood toward the Asteroid Redirect Mission within NASA itself?

The excitement that the NASA team has had over this last six months as this came together, I have not felt in all my time at NASA. It’s very exciting. It runs across mission directorates, and in a different way than I’ve seen before.

How much do you project this mission would cost? Early reports indicated a target of $1 billion; the Keck study suggested more like $2.5 billion. Can you pin that number down?

One of our main areas of focus over the next few months is mission formulation and budget preparation, because we absolutely need to do that. I’d argue that the two numbers aren’t that much different in the sense that normally a human space flight mission would be in the tens of billions. If we’re saying that this is a $1 billion to $2.5 billion framework, that’s probably doable over the number of years we’re talking about. If it’s going to be twice that, maybe it’s something we won’t propose going forward.

We certainly have science missions that cost more; MSL [the Mars Science Lander, now better known as the Curiosity rover] was more. But a human space flight mission that returns this kind of science, that returns these kind of assets, in the $1 to $2 billion range is pretty incredible. If we can formulate a mission that sticks to that budget we will be able to do it in a reasonable timeframe. Wow, if it’s $1 billion, we can certainly handle that and keep to the schedule. If it’s more than that it might take another couple of years.

The 2014 request—the one under consideration right now—includes $105 million to get started. Where does the money go?

About $38 million is for solar-electric propulsion technology, $40 million for robotic capability–so that’s inhuman space flight—and $20 million in science for enhanced detection, basically doubling our asteroid-detection budget. The extra $7 million is what we have focused on an “asteroid grand challenge,” which is not just detection but creative partnerships and ways to do this that will be leveraged with non-NASA innovative ideas.

Garver

Lori Garver, at NASA Kennedy Space Center, watches the March 1 launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon space capsule onboard. Garver is an energetic supporter of private spaceflight. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

How does the grand challenge work? Are you inviting anyone to approach NASA and suggest ways to find and move asteroids?

The asteroid grand challenge is really all encompassing. This piece of the grand challenge is to find all asteroid threats to human populations and figure out what to do about them. And our framing for that as part of these White House grand challenges is to be able to partner with other U.S. government agencies, private sector partners, as well as international. For asteroid detection there’s a lot of other agency participation as well as international, and we’re getting more and more private sector interest. There’s B612, and also Planetary Resources. Then you look at are there things that they might want to do beyond just detection for the mission.

We put out the RFI [Request for Information] because we had folks coming in with really creative ideas for how they might incorporate some of their planning into the mission. It’s been exciting to see how many folks are interested in this. And not just from this country. We’ve had a number of discussions with non-U.S. space agencies. The Japanese were in last week and they said their own aerospace industry, within Japan, is interested.

There are still competing concepts for the Asteroid Redirect Mission—grabbing a small, free-floating asteroid or collecting a boulder off a larger object. When and how will you resolve that?

All of that to be finalized for what will be our budget request for ’15. So this fall we will have, I think, a determination of more of the details of the mission. There are some interesting things about going to a larger asteroid that would allow it to align better both with asteroid detection programs, as well as potential mitigation technology. We’re looking at launching the robotic portion, the solar electric propulsion portion, in 2018 at the earliest. And making EM2—Exploration Mission 2, the one that was going to go to L2—having that in 2021 be when the astronauts visit the asteroid. All that presupposes that you were able to detect a target asteroid that you could get to with the 2018 launch and be moved by 2021. Those are all notional. Again, we’ll be formulating the budgets and see how that all aligns.

What about the most difficult aspect of the mission: capturing and maneuvering an asteroid to a new location? What are the next tech steps there?

Well we have the Keck work, and JPL is working on with another four or five of our NASA centers to get their technologies. Goddard has an incredibly robust capability for robotic servicing that started when we were going to do the unmanned Hubble rescue mission [which was scrubbed in favor of servicing by astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis in May, 2009]. We were at the Glenn Research Center not too long ago and they are just so energized because they’ve been working on solar electric propulsion, trying to get it up to about 40 kilowatts, and this mission gives it a real purpose.

There is a lot of capability out there that is exciting to draw together for this purpose. It will be fascinating to see the new technologies involved and the kind of capability they gives. It’s relevant not only for potential asteroid mitigation in the future, but I’ve heard people say they are very excited about us driving new technologies for dealing with orbital debris [otherwise known as “space junk”].

The idea of grabbing a 1,000-ton spinning space rock, getting a hold on it, stopping it, and moving it…that seems pretty wild to me.

Yeah. And that’s one of the reasons we’re looking at getting a boulder off a larger asteroid. It might be easier because they’re not spinning as fast, the scientists tell me.

Is NASA directly exploring any asteroid-deflection concepts using the same kinds of technology?

NASA’s asteroid grand challenge could come back with some specific proposals in that regard. But for NASA itself, other than capturing an asteroid to tow it to trans-lunar space, we don’t have specific deflection proposals yet.

Is asteroid deflection even a clear part of NASA’s mandate? Is it something the agency would be allowed to do, politically?

The national space policy of 2010 laid out NASA’s role. We’re not the operational ones, but we can drive the technology to do these things. Until now we didn’t have the missions and budget to do it, so we hadn’t been doing it. The Asteroid Redirect Mission allows us to do that so that others agencies, when they need it, can potentially use that technology in the future. We’re not saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s like in the movies when the president calls NASA because an asteroid is headed for New York City (since they always are).” I love those kind of movies because I can go, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen.” My kids are all, “Oh, mom.” But really, our role is not operational, it’s to advance the technology that can be utilized.

So if a high-risk asteroid showed up, NASA would require special legal authorization to become the lead agency in deflecting it?

Yeah. We do not have that laid out. There’s a United Nations committee on the peaceful uses of outer space and there are—depending on timing—all kinds of scenarios for governance relating to these decisions. Obviously the countries and organizations that have the capability would be the ones called on. I’ve always felt it would be an international effort and we would just be one voice in a lot.

It seems like there’s a huge disconnect between the popular fascination with asteroids and the modest efforts NASA has been authorized to undertake. What do you make of that?

Frankly I think that we need to catch up with public culture. NASA’s used to being defined by exploration. And we look at Apollo as our shining time, when we were the pop culture. We were the best brand in the world. With this Asteroid Redirect Mission, we have an opportunity to align again with the public’s views, to show them, wow, NASA has envisioned what people on this planet should be prepared to do in order to protect civilization.

  • CharlesHouston

    Sadly, this is classic misdirection and failure to answer questions. I am NOT some “Obama Administration basher” and my responses are NOT due to loyalty to any poliical party.

    Mr Powell asked about how the asteroid mission fit in with the NASA strategy and Ms Garver misdirected her answer. There are NASA Grand Challenges, many panels have created well respected goals for the US. No where did anything like this asteroid boondoogle appear. We want to study asteroids – like we are doing with OSIRIS-Rex – but this is a massive diversion from that. Suddenly, Ms Garver added a new Grand Challenge which has been changing since the day it was announced.
    Ms Garver says that the science community is upset since they did not get to peer review this before it was announced – why does the US pay for the National Science Foundation, many Decadal surveys, panels to create science goals – if what they come up with is ignored when a huge new program is announced?
    Ms Garver’s biggest whopper is when she says that this “money” will not ocme out of science but out of human space flight. But HSF is struggling to pay for several items right now, they don’t have $100 million sitting around looking for a mission. If you pull $100 million out of a small account like NASA, everyone is hit.
    She also claims that NASA personnel are enthusiastic – at the Centers they know that this is a doomed enterprise.

    Unfortunately we must observe that Ms Garver is a liar and is trying to minimize objections to this poorly thought out boondoggle. She mis-states the way that science is managed here in the US to try to support her preferred program.

    The US is going to waste who knows how much time and money on this before it is cancelled.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Harry Rosenberg

      To be sure Lori Garver is enthusiastic, and the kind of person who charges ahead like, “Damn the torpedoes. Full charge ahead.” This trait seems to be inherent for many people and is expressed by entrepreneurs who build businesses by charging ahead even when they cannot see the road ahead clearly if at all. They are all too rare in government.

      Project feasibility would appear early in any well-planned program, but hey we have tens to hundreds of millenniums before civilization will be winked out by an asteroid/earth collision. Given the exponential rate of technology development, there is no hurry. But I am still in the camp for feasibility studies followed by research probes not only into space but into the sciences needed to support extended, largely unmanned, space probes. That will come in due course. Of course that may happen only after all three of us are pushing up daisies. Be patient, but we must persevere on this one.

    • Tom Billings

      Charles, the word liar falls easily from your lips. In Washington’s web of lies she does far less of that than most. Congress now has all of NASA now lying about how they want SLS, because Congress will refuse NASA’s budget without their pork monster being included. It is true that those within NASA, who still believe that American spaceflight should be summed up in the acronym NASA, dislike the ideas put forwards that are not included in the hoary “Vision” of the past, encrusted with the dominance of Centers in feudal dependence on members of Congress.

      So What?

      That “Vision”, combined with political reality, got us 40 years of human exploration stasis.

      Your posts show a massive interest in preserving hierarchies allowing dominance of NASA/Congressional Complex agency costs in Space Policy, and benefiting from it. The rest of the Republic is barely mentioned in your posts. However, the rest of the Republic was and is, or should be, the whole point of NASA. Lori and a few others managed, in a few months in 2008, to swing the Obama Team from “cancel NASA, and fund more education with the money”, to what I consider the best Space Policy since NASA was founded. Remember that this opinion comes from one who thinks Obama in general is a disaster for the Republic. Then Obama refused Lori and General Bolden any horses for the usual horse-trading of budget building, leading to the last 2 years of debacle. That last was not Lori’s fault.

      At the present rate, NASA is headed down a path where even those of us who have supported it through 40 years of human exploration stasis will be thinking of Jim Davidson’s old motto: “NASA, Delenda Est!” Why? Because the NASA that you and the NASA/Congressional Complex aspire to will serve only its internal agency costs, and not the rest of the Republic. Either that aspiration changes, or you will make Jim a prophet before his time, and NASA a dead letter.

      I want a lunar settlement. I’ve delivered papers for 25+ years on the subject. *I* think processing a small CC asteroid’s materials could make a lunar settlement *far* cheaper to build and sustain. Of course, for Congress, that’s a bug, not a solution. That reality is where “The Vision” fails time and time again.

      • CharlesHouston

        Tom – your post showed that you did not read or did not understand what I said. Your statement appears to have been written long before you read mine.

        When someone points out that a program is not realistic – that is vastly different than supporting some particular solution. No where did I even mention the current bureaucracy for space programs, you inserted that since possibly you wanted to talk about that but could only find a discussion of how science goals are created.
        I mentioned several examples of how Ms Garver avoided direct answers before I concluded that she was deliberately not telling the truth. It is fun to see someone writing in a Shakespearean tone however.

        And we wonder about your repeated mention of the Republic. Are you suggesting that NASA should defend our individual freedoms, isn’t that what the military is for?
        It would be interesting so see these papers you have delivered, I wonder if they depend on harvesting asteroids? If so, I would think that someone pointing out that the harvesting process is very difficult would be interesting.

        • Tom Billings

          “When someone points out that a program is not realistic – that is vastly different than supporting some particular solution.”

          Realistic is in relation to the useful goals of, in this case, human spaceflight, which are properly the settlement of the Solar System.

          “No where did I even mention the current bureaucracy for space programs,”

          And to speak of NASA’s strategy determinations without doing so removes from consideration the present largest costs of any NASA program, the agency costs of the NASA/Congressional Complex. These are the costs from agents, from congressmen on down, acting to favor their own interests instead of those which benefit the Republic as a whole. Some agency cost is to be expected in any hierarchy, but for 40 years agency cost runs wild in the NASA/Congressional Complex, with Congress being lead example in this.

          “you inserted that since possibly you wanted to talk about that but could
          only find a discussion of how science goals are created.”

          Science goals are not the primary concerns for human spaceflight. If you want to do science, only, then the Robot Rangers are right, for the first 10 years. When you speak of launching from Earth, robots are a far cheaper way to do science. Having ISRU for human settlement, *then* a mix of human/robot activity is far cheaper, for science data. Small asteroids that temporarily are Earth’s satellites, are the easiest way to start getting resources to make all spaceflight cheaper, including lunar settlement.

          “And we wonder about your repeated mention of the Republic.”

          Many in NASA do. The agency costs inside the NASA/Congressional Complex have been so large, for so long, that they have long obscured to those inside it that NASA is supposed to being doing things that benefit the rest of the Republic’s advance into Space, even when that is repeatedly written into law.

          “It would be interesting so see these papers you have delivered,”

          Then look in the Space and Robotics conference papers over the last 25 years for most of them, though the last one was at the Carlsbad N.M. workshop on Planetary Lava Tube Caves. Their use as bases and settlement sites, has been the major focus of our work.

          “I wonder if they depend on harvesting asteroids?”

          A few direct mentions, but we have focused far more on the Moon. Asteroid ISRU *would* make sustaining such settlements orders of magnitude easier.

          “I would think that someone pointing out that the harvesting process is very difficult would be interesting.”

          The difficulties are well known to us. That is why it would be a positive contribution to the Republic’s advance into the Solar System for NASA to get busy on demonstrating some of the solutions to those difficulties. Much as we like the Moon, we have come to accept that focusing on only *one* place for human spaceflight at a time guarantees that eventually each individual advance will be abandoned because of high costs, the same reason Apollo was abandoned.

          • voronwae

            I remember your papers, Tom, and I enjoyed them a great deal. I was on the steering committee for those conferences for 18 years. Lunar lava tubes were a revelation…all those lunar bases, just waiting for us while we talked about how to build them out on the surface.

            I also served with Lori Garver many years ago on the National Board of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. One couldn’t find a person more dedicated to furthering the cause of space exploration. And she has, immeasurably, despite the protests of the entrenched interests.

            Lori has read “The High Frontier”, and so have I. Building lunar or Mars bases would be a disaster for humanity right now, were it ever to occur. Luckily, I don’t believe it will happen, at least not for a good long time.

            Despite the difficulty of imagining humans living anywhere but on planets, only in orbit can we craft environments that are similar to Earth, with one G gravity, one atmosphere and more radiation shielding than the Earth has. Only in orbit can commerce grow quickly, with the harvesting of asteroids that either float in by themselves every year or are purposely brought in robotically. And only in orbit, while we develop space-based enterprises, will we develop the skills to move around the solar system.

            Moving things in and out of terrestrial, lunar or Martian gravity wells is a great way to drain our resources without doing anything truly useful. We need commercial enterprises, in space, working for their own gain, if we as a species should ever hope to become spacefaring. And much of what they’ll need is just floating there, waiting for them, if our government can overcome the entrenched interests long enough to reduce the risk.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Dan Adamo

    Ms. Garver mentioned Orion’s EM2 flight profile had formerly targeted “L2″. I’d like to clear up an ambiguity in her terminology that was incorrectly interpreted by Mr. Powell. The former EM2 destination is NOT “an equilibrium point about 930,000 miles from Earth” as Mr. Powell commented. He is referring to the second libration point in the Sun/Earth system, or SEL2. Ms. Garver is referring to the second libration point in the Earth/Moon system about 270,000 miles from Earth or about 37,000 miles above the Moon’s farside. This location is unambiguously called EML2.

    • coreyspowell

      Thank you for the clarification. I listened to that part of the interview a few times and could not tell from context which location Garver was referring to. I’ll fix the text.

  • Wayne Rast

    I think it’s fair to say the majority of opinion even in the forward looking space community is the one expressed by Mr. Houston below.

    Regardless of the money constraints, the Augustine Commission, or any other cold splashes of reality, the truly only logical way to space for humanity is mostly prescribed for us, regardless of the political party or adminstration who gets to put their name on it.

    The only logical rough order for human presence extension beyond Earth is the one proposed so many times. We have taken the baby step of “short” visiting to the moon. We won’t be “visiting” only ever again–only going to stay. But before that we needed to learn to live and operate in daily space environment, which we are currently doing in ISS in LEO.

    With the daily space operations experience in hand, the next logical step is is live a quarter million miles away (only a few days to return) on a permanent moon base. As we learn about longer term exposure and living beyond of radiation belts (countermeasures still need to be fully decided on and developed), we will then hopefully be ready with the type of propulsion that will get us tens of millions of miles away on a human trip to the only other location in the solar system that holds much promise. We likely need to be able to do it in weeks (4-8), not many months, unless new shielding or countermeasures come forward.

    I’m not underestimating the costs, nor the political will necessary to bear costs in a shrinking national budget environment we are going to face. But the above order is the only possible one that makes sense to those that understand space. If money delays, then it will happen later rather than sooner. But filling in the interim with asteroid mission(s) is one thing only-a diversion of resources from doing something important and useful.

    Sadly, Ms. Garver was never helpful in understanding or explaining the above to this administration. This asteroid mission was and is a boondoggle at best and a foolish waste of resources at a minimum. I suspect even her science community friends telling her this is probably part of why she has so suddenly left. Many have long suspected her pushing of this Asteroid plan was to cover over her desire to kill Orion (which she and this Administration didn’t manage to do) while decimating our human space program’s world class work force. That decimation and the laying low of JSC and other human centers is what I suspect will ultimately define her sad legacy in space.

    Because my Mother always sad try to say something nice about everyone, her efforts have helped embolden some new commercial entrants that will have a real role in future space. This was going to happen anyway (in fact was on track even back to the Bush Admin–they knew there wasn’t enough money for everything in the Vision without commercial space in the mix), but Ms. Garver used the false pitting of commercial versus established space as a way to decimate human space efforts and kill the Vision, Though no one knows why for certain, the Vision certainly didn’t have this administration’s name on it, and all politicians do like their name on plaques. Sadly, that story isn’t terribly unusual for NASA either, though they used the Augustine conclusions about money as cover to kill the only nicely logical progression of humans into space.

    So though it came from an ignoble purpose to start with, the promotion of commercial space has been a good one, and one many of us have sought out for a long time. The Douglas’s, Boeing’s, Marietta’s, and Lockheed’s of the dawning (commercial) space age are being born now, and we will have seen them from their humble beginnings. And the established providers will have a thing to two to say about that future as well, as they transition from being a govt. only contractor to a resourceprovider to a new wider audience of clientele. And as prices go down, we will finally see just how elastic that discussed commercial market for space truly is.

    If only we former govt. contractor workers can manage to live through this horrendously grinding transition to whatever the sausage looks like when it comes out the other side, we may all look back on this as having been a pretty wide open, barnstorming side of new space era that is being born. Just paying the bills till then will be the challenge for so many.

    Good bye Ms. Garver. I, like many other who have been harmed, wonder how you will ultimately be remembered…

  • http://exoscientist.blogspot.com/ Robert Clark

    A big problem NASA has with Congress is that Congress wants us to return to the Moon while NASA claims we don’t have enough money for that.
    But if you look at what NASA takes to mean by “return to the Moon”, it’s the Constellation program. Frankly, I’m mystified why NASA continues to fall back on Constellation for lunar missions when that was a Bush-era program. Why don’t you come up with a cheaper program?
    The main reason why Constellation had to be so huge is that it proposed a huge lunar lander in the Altair at 45 metric tons(mT). But it’s demonstrably false that a lander has to be that large because the Apollo lander was only a third the size of Altair. And in the 40 years since Apollo we can make a lander smaller not larger than the Apollo one.
    NASA in Constellation wanted to go beyond Apollo. I posit that a better way of accomplishing that is by making the mission size so small that we can have regular flights to the Moon like we have flights to the ISS.

    Bob Clark

  • Charles

    I’m afraid most people still miss the point of what is really going on behind the scenes. The goal is to De-develop the United States industrially. Eliminating Space launch capability for the US is only one aspect of that effort. By cancelling programs and constantly changing NASA goals or proposing boondoggles that are easily dismissed later, they achieve the real underlying goal of DE-development. Intellectuals continually debate the wisdom of NASA’s supreme leadership, assuming they have good intentions but are simply not good administrators. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meanwhile the workforce tribal knowledge is decimated as the debate rolls on.

    The people in charge have written and published their real and true intentions, if people only go and read them and not dismiss it as fantasy. I’ll quote one: “A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality
    environment in North America and to de-develop the United States,”
    That was written by the current Science and Technology Czar John Holdren in the book he co-authored in 1973, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions. Eco-Science is another book co-authored by Holdren that people might want to take seriously.

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Out There

Notes from the far edge of space, astronomy, and physics.

About Corey S. Powell

Corey S. Powell is DISCOVER's Editor at Large and former Editor in Chief. Previously he has sat on the board of editors of Scientific American, taught science journalism at NYU, and been fired from NASA. Corey is the author of "20 Ways the World Could End," one of the first doomsday manuals, and "God in the Equation," an examination of the spiritual impulse in modern cosmology. He lives in Brooklyn, under nearly starless skies.

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