Policy Brief - Exploring Space with Lori Garver

Policy Brief - Exploring Space with Lori Garver

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Welcome to policy brief an informed an engaging conversation with policymakers policy influencers and public sector professionals. My name is Trevor Brown. I'm Dean of the John Brown College of Public Affairs and your host. I'm joined today by Lori Garver, who served as the Deputy Director for NASA under then director Charlie Bolden during the Obama administration, and is now CEO of Earthrise Alliance, a philanthropic organization that converts Earth's systems data into relevant and actionable knowledge to combat climate change. Laurie, thanks for joining us today. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure. So I want to dive right into space

exploration an area that so many people have wanderlust about, and so few of us will ever ever get to do it, but but want to look to the stars and see what's out there. Why, why do you think humans are so enticed by the idea of space exploration? And and I'm sitting here in the Glenn College and you have a Senator Glenn connection. Why as you answer that question, do you think Senator Glenn was, was so eager to go up again, after having gone up once? Well, in my view, a space exploration is similar to all exploration, humans living organisms explore for the purpose of survival, primarily. And as we evolved, exploration became about more than survival, of course, economic gain, and being able to protect one's family and so forth. And so we

say it's an intrinsic, human characteristic to explore. But I, I believe at its core, its survival. And ultimately, as you know, just a one planet species. Our time will be limited. These

are huge, long distance periods of time. But I think ultimately, that in many ways, underpins humanity's desire. I think if you take that back to one individual, like Senator Glenn's desire to go back after 50 years, a lot of a lot of years. He'd had a very short three orbits in space, and probably if anything draws you to space, more than wanting to explore it's having been for a short period of time. I don't know how long he it was that he really felt he wanted to go back. But I was at NASA when we were contacted by President Clinton, who said, hey, I've been talking to Senator Glenn, he really, really like to go on the Space Shuttle. And at that time, we

had flown politicians on the space shuttle, we had flown senator Garn and Congressman at the time, Nelson, this was years after that. And he his health, where he passed, you know, all of his health screenings. And he made a case for doing science for aging population on the space station. And although the data point of one is not really proper science, I think everybody knew that. The administrator of NASA, Dan

Golden, had his staff review the concept and came back without any showstoppers to say no, and Public Affairs was extremely positive about it, about the opportunity. And sure enough, his launch was more covered than most and I had taken we all had delegations down there. At that point, the First Lady Hillary Clinton had come. So there were there were some real positives and I know it meant a lot to him to get to go back. To this day, he remains the oldest human in space. pretty remarkable achievement following on to be the first American to orbit the Earth. Let's turn to you. What attracted you to the

field of space you you were a social sciences major as an undergraduate and then made a pivot? Yes, I was drawn to space. I very clearly because of John Glenn, but not in the way most probably little boys would have been. I was political science and economics major and my family were Republicans in Michigan, but I really had grown to believe that Ronald Reagan's policies were hurting the nation and the world. And I graduated from college in 1983. That spring, if you looked in head to head polls, candidate, John Glenn was the only person who had a chance to beat the president Ronald Reagan in in that mid in between Reagan's two terms. And so I went and volunteered for him, I had the opportunity to get to know him. While working there, I worked my way up in the campaign over the eight months of being there.

Before Super Tuesday, voters decided he could not be president. We, during that time, got to meet a lot of people who were supporters of Senator Glenn, and who were from NASA, I applied for a job at a place called the National Space Institute, because of a contact I met on the campaign started working there. And then I was really drawn to a career in it because of I think, the sort of preeminent positive future it it brings or has the potential to bring. And I got a master's in

science, technology and public policy, because I really felt like our investments in science, technology and space specifically for my interests, should be better aligned with providing real benefits to the public and the value proposition of space, I think, has been, especially for human spaceflight, not not exactly what it should be 50 60 years, since we first launched people in space, it's gone quite slow. And there's some reasons for that. And I find it really compelling to try and get us to a point in the space program where we are able to fill that potential of space that so many of us have been granted. So I want to I want to explore this a little bit and go into it. And have you provide some of the context for us as listeners and viewers about our national interests in space. And I don't

know juxtapose two arenas, we often think of space as a defense arena, but also a domestic set of priorities, just in broad brushstrokes, paint for us, what's at play there on the defense side and the domestic side? And do we have the balance right, right now? Sure. Um, I love to quote Neil Tyson, Neil deGrasse Tyson in response to this question, because he says very succinctly, we do these and buy we governments great things, big, large investments for three reasons, fear, greed, and glory. And that really sums up what I believe space offers. And in

fact, Apollo offered all three, in my view, we went to space out of fear that the Soviets were going to take the high ground, and that in a sense, not just a military high ground, but of the hearts and minds capturing the hearts and minds of people around the world. Greed because we knew whoever developed these technologies would benefit by returning economic gain. And there's nothing that's been done that has more glory than the moon landing, in my view. So there are within NASA, I think

more of the glory and greed aspect, we should be doing things that inspire humanity and help our nation's economic growth. And the way you do that is invest in new technologies in ways that then can transfer out into the private sector and make our country and our industry more competitive. That gets you both, I think, the glory and the greed and the fear side, we have a very large and quite effective combination of intelligence, military space national security program that takes advantage of some of those investments that I know, NASA makes, but NASA is really not a military organization. So there is collaboration, but it was quite separate. And I think it's it's well known that satellites played and will only play greater and greater roles in our national security. There was a

New York Times article a couple weeks ago, that identified the advancements made through the NASA investments as Game Changing for our national security position related to China and other adversaries, that the ability to launch smaller, more capable satellites more cheaply using these newly developed rockets, all that have been come out of NASA's investment have been a game changer. And I was, you know, I just hadn't followed it. That's not my my field as much, I was really gratifying to see that all this investment is paying off in a variety of ways. And I I've never shied away from saying that our investments, public investments in space have also to do with our national security. So I think it's a range of all three. So just just before we move on from this, you know, I, I think of the the two elephants in the room in terms of public, the public side are NASA and the Department of Defense. And you

obviously served in NASA, are there other agencies that have space as part of their portfolio, and who are they and what part? Of course, and and I should say, at this point, 60 years into the space program, we space is more than a government agencies or it's a place It is similar to the oceans or the atmosphere, it requires a unique transportation vehicle, and it offers you benefits when you're there. And it has to remain healthy and free, in order to be able to exploit the benefits of it. But we all use space every single day in our lives. So the combination of managing those resources, for instance, the FCC, certainly the Department of Interior has a whole division, they operate the Landsat satellites so we have more than 30 years of data you get through the Department of Interior, and NOAA operates all our atmospheric and weather satellites, we at NASA are really supposed to be driving technologies to be able to have the capabilities that others require to do their jobs. So of course, that is, I'm gonna just say every government agency, every single person uses satellites every day, and we don't think about it, your GPS, your you know, it's ubiquitous. So now let's, let's pivot and talk about different kinds of balance. You mentioned, sort of that this is a public good, a

pure space, like the atmosphere and the water and so forth. But, but we have private interests that that operate in those spaces all the time. And so space similarly has private interests that that operate all the time. And I think right now, we're in an era where we're even more aware of that with Elon Musk, and SpaceX and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin and other companies that are that are in this space. So talk a little bit

about the balance between public and private. And this is something where you have you have some strong strong feelings and experience to draw from so start to paint that picture for us. Sure, I, I've been a little surprised that my views are seen as anything controversial, because my entire time in the space field, the last 35 plus years, private sector has played a huge role. As you said, commercial communication

satellites have been around for 50 years, we have commercialized many aspects of space, seamlessly, which is how we do everything else in our country. You know, the government drives the technologies, makes advancements in the private sector, takes it from now, aviation, a wonderful example. So so we're pretty far in now to the capability that the government drove and allowing the private sector to pick up where the government is no longer needed. Seems like a rational thing to do. And I was at NASA in the 1990s. I worked

for Dan Golden, was administrator for 10 years. And this was his view, and it wasn't anything that controversial. We were going to turn over the keys of the space shuttle to the private sector. The problem is private sector isn't gonna pay $3 billion to operate something. And the government when they start projects, because when you do them in a way that is, you know, acquisition, the government rules, you do a cost plus contract and that does not incentivize innovation, cost cutting or timeliness. So it's really just a different

structure of utilizing the private sector in a way that they are allowed to innovate. I really think the big companies like Boeing and Lockheed can obviously innovate. They're just not incentivized to do that within the contracts that we normally get. So around, you know, the beginning of the

2000s, we had some of these wealthy individuals decide they wanted to invest in this business. And I think that we are all so much better for it. The policies that allowed it to take place did start much earlier. The commercial launch incentives act 1984, you know, I worked on that at the National Space society. So we really are well into driving technologies that can be taken over by the private sector, when they take over those jobs then don't, you know, have to be carried by the taxpayers, and they open up new markets, and they allow our own industry to be more competitive. For years launch companies, the

sole provider had gotten so expensive, no commercial satellites were being launched on that meant the government had to pay the entire infrastructure cost plus every launch. And did that lead to innovation? Absolutely not. And if anything, it made our country weaker, to not have a cutting edge ability to do that. So the fact that right now, we have a disrupter

with SpaceX, and hopefully some of these others coming along soon, to be able to be competitors, I think will make everyone better. You think of IBM at the time of Microsoft and Apple? Were they happy about it? Of course not. Did they go away? No, they are a better company for it. And they learned to

compete. And I think competition is something very, very positive and American for the parts of space, that, again, we know enough about that we do have capabilities, there are all kinds of things for NASA to do that are much more challenging driving technologies that still will be in the government's domain probably for a while. So I never have feared that we would be leaving the business, if anything, the people working at NASA would be more enthused to be doing cutting edge things. So let's let's talk about one leaving the visit business decisions that has some something of a personal connection to the Glenn College. So Senator Glenn went up in one

of the space shuttles. And you were in NASA at a time when they made the decision, you all made the decision to to no longer have the government in the business of putting the space shuttle up in space. And my guess is you and Senator Glenn had a difference of opinion on on that particular issue. I think we'd all love to hear about that. Sure. The truth is, I wasn't at NASA when it happened. I know

I'm blamed for it. Well, forgive me for adding. Now it's it's a common misconception. And, and, and

again, there wasn't disagreement about it when it happened. So after the Columbia accident, the Columbia Investigation Board, and many people like Dr. Sally Ride, who are on that investigation, as she was on the Challenger investigation, said, This system has some inherent flaws for safety. And we made

some decisions when we developed in the 70s that we shouldn't have made, and it needs to retire in 2010. We can get it back because we had the space station and we were going to build it honestly, if we didn't have the space station. I think the Columbia accident would have been the end of the program. But

we felt we could take enough precautions improve it enough to fly out to 2010 safely and that meant completing the space station. That decision was made, oh 04? Um, so I didn't come back until 08. And in a way it was going to retire in 2010. The first thing I did on transition team was asked the head of spaceflight at NASA, could it be extended? And he said no. He said we have already let go third tier providers. It would take so much to bring it back up and we would we do not recommend that because it does have this inherent safety problem. Working on the campaign with Senator Glenn of course he disagreed. He

felt we should fly the shuttle longer. He had not you know people who went into the program when he did they they were aware of this huge risk and the shuttle design was supposed to be something that made safe and routine space travel, something that just was not able to be accomplished. So I would say it was a thrill of my life, to not only work for Senator Glenn, but work with him after that on several of these presidential campaigns, and being able to have discussions about the future of the program was an honor. And we did disagree. And to his credit, although we disagreed when he was asked during the campaign, who the Obama team should have to run their NASA transition team if they want. He was asked by Tom Wheeler, who I know spoke here, not very long ago, a wonderful Ohio State, board member and so forth. He John Glenn suggested me so I owed my transition team spot to Senator Glenn and Tom Wheeler took his advice. This is, to me, we, we've talked many

times and the space station was what Senator I really wanted to make sure we had. And a big thing that we did, and he probably influenced me in this is we did extend the space shuttle for two more flights than it was planned to be under Bush. We knew there was a safety risk. But we also knew it could be a long time til we could go back with a vehicle that had enough mass to really help sustain the astronauts, we took up the last of the big science experiments, en masse and we successfully flew out the shuttle and I know that Senator Glenn was very pleased with that. So you mentioned a number of presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Obama, let's talk about the most recent and now the the newly elected Trump and and Biden's we have a new administration in the Trump administration and put some pretty bold pronouncements out there. As its Space Policy, notably that we would be back to the moon by 2024 will give us your your guidance, you've you've you've counseled lots of people in these roles before and served in them. What what what do you see is the Biden administration doing on terms of the moon and perhaps beyond the Mars? Sure, you know, keep in mind, this discussion is been focused on human spaceflight. And for lots of the other parts of NASA,

the science programs, the aeronautics or science, have been very consistent and well supported throughout presidents, I actually believe human spaceflight has been as well, I do not subscribe to the view that it's a big problem that new presidents come in and change direction, because 90% of what NASA does, remains consistent. And having advised presidential campaigns. For years, my my goal is to have a sustainable program that really does open up more potential for benefit to society. And human spaceflight is one of those things that the US is known for. I've never met a presidential candidate who wanted to do anything other than be supportive of human spaceflight. And there are different ways to do that. And

what happens when you come into an administration is the last administration, you have to sort of understand where things are. So I think the Biden administration right now is still figuring out where things are within the existing NASA human spaceflight programs, but have already confirmed that they want to be supportive of human space flight and space flight right now is focused toward the moon. I would say for my, from my perspective, the moon has always been a destination where we probably were going to go back next, you know, before Mars, and the Obama team arrived, we had a program that was headed to the moon, but it wasn't funded and it was so off track that a major commission said it was not sustainable and needed to be dismantled. My line is when you start in an administration, you really don't start by lying to the President. Hopefully you never lie to the president. Um, but at the beginning, there's no reason to, you're not covering anything up and my view is you don't air it, it becomes your problem. So we

aired to President Elect Obama and in his early days, the problems and teed up some major decisions. And he decided, after really studying it through major commission and upon the recommendation of a team of us that what NASA needed to do was reduce the cost of space transportation, invest in the technologies to go further and to be able to do that in a way that was sustainable. And that meant we didn't put out there what the next the next destination was, because destinations are missions that are largely chosen on these larger geopolitical purposes. So how great to have a president who didn't just want to pick something, he wanted to do the right thing. And when the time was there, we either had a cooperative geopolitical mission, or some reason to be competitive. One of the fear greed and glory pieces, um, we

would be able to do it within a period of time and for an amount of money that was achievable. The reason we haven't been anywhere in 15 years isn't because presidents change it is because every program we put forward, starts costing so much and take so long that a new president looks at it, I cannot, in good conscience support this. So we could not in good conscience support the Constellation program. We looked to offload the things that private sector could do a lot of that's been successful, the Congress forced these larger programs back into the budget, they have taken 40 billion you combine SLS and Orion, we haven't gone anywhere yet, they didn't even have a destination initially. And there isn't any money in the budget to have them continue. Plus to a lunar

lander, much less all of the work you want to do on the moon in order to be sustainable to go on to Mars. So the Trump administration did a lot for NASA that was very positive, in my view. And given how I feel about President Trump's policies that's really saying something. But they did lie to the American public, they weren't going back to the moon in 2024. They don't

have that plan, and right now the Biden people or figuring out when we could go back, and what is the best way to do that? And I actually don't know, because I wasn't on the transition team. My assumption is, we're pretty far along. I mean, we should be 10 years is a long time to have been funding these vehicles. And if we can get them going, and actually flying a couple of times, that'd be wonderful. I think, over time, we will

transition to the private sector, because that's the only thing that really is sustainable as far as taxpayer dollars go. So this is sort of a pivot to the private sector, although you work for a nonprofit organization, a philanthropic organization, and I want to make sure our listeners get to learn about that. So we've been talking, as you said, about human space travel. But as you pointed out, there's so many

other dimensions to this. So let's talk about climate, and and space. What's the mission of Earthrise Alliance? And how do you achieve your mission? So if you really look at how we utilize space, we talked about communications and positioning, a major thing that we have learned from going to space is about our home planet, we look back, and we saw ourselves that Earthrise photo, I took that as the name of our organization, because it did start the environmental movement. It allowed us to all see we are here on this blue marble. Since then, instruments that have been developed by NASA to and other nations to study what's happening on our planet have given us the information we have about climate change. We can understand these things because we went to space. It's just it's such a wonderful thing, that we

live in a time when we can measure it because what we're doing needs to change. And if we hadn't gone to space, we wouldn't have that information. So Earthrise is set up specifically to utilize the Earth System Science data that exists. Of course, we love to inspire more. But we have so much that exists that we can use to help both adapt and mitigate the climate disaster that we are in. We do this already in many ways. But we also know that that data is out on servers that

isn't utilized because the analytics aren't understood or there really now. So much of the capability is in modeling improvements, computation data Storage data access. The rise in earth rise stands for renaissance in sensing the environment, there is a renaissance that is happening that is well beyond just imaging from space that is allowed us to do this. And to me, fundamentally, the survival, the reason we explore to survive, I think exploring space will first have to allow us to survive here, before we can even have a chance to go and expand life, humanity beyond. And I believe that we should most fully utilize that, that data. And I

think NASA can do more. One of my favorite concepts is the the climate corps that President Biden is put forward through the Department of Interior and agriculture really needs to be able to utilize satellite data to do their conservation job and being able to recruit like a Peace Corps climate corps people, I think NASA's brand, yeah, just sells itself. NASA is internationally, so well respected, and people having a problem believing the science, seeing NASA imagery, and seeing the modeling that is done, NASA can show I think is a big part of a solution. And then giving that information to people on the ground local decision makers will also be helpful. We have a methane set, the first one going up next year. If you can

measure, for instance, leaks in gas pipes, you can help with mitigation, you will probably need satellites to help really reinforce trade agreements, and provide measurements for things like a carbon tax if we, you know, get the policy lined up. And I think the technologies that we have can be improved enough that space will be an even more part of the answer. So fundamentally, science technology, public policy is about helping society and people. I really think this

should be a huge focus of space for the next few years until we are to a point where we know we can survive long enough to expand humanity elsewhere. Laurie, on that hopeful note, let's pull this conversation to a close. Thank you so much for this education, broadly about space and Space Policy. And thank you for your continued service to, to science and to public policy and humanity.

Thanks for joining us today. You are most welcome. Thank you for having me. Go Oh h i Oh

2021-03-30 12:53

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