Former NASA official Lori Garver said in a new memoir that she faced criticism for supporting SpaceX.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told her to “get your boy Elon in line,” in one exchange, she said.
Garver’s book follows the commercialization of space and her history with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said government and NASA officials ridiculed her for supporting SpaceX.
“Senior industry and government officials took pleasure in deriding the company and Elon in the early years,” Garver said in her new book, “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age,” published June 21.
The memoir follows the commercialization of the US space industry during Garver’s time as NASA’s Deputy Administrator during Obama Administration, highlighting the agency’s early interactions with SpaceX and Garver’s efforts to make space launches more affordable — despite pressure from NASA to keep production in-house.
In recent years, NASA has appeared to embrace the commercial space industry as billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos vie for multi-billion dollar contracts with the agency, but Garver says it was not always this way.
The book takes aim at current NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who Garver accuses of attempting to rewrite history and “wrap himself in the Commercial Crew flag” after years of fighting against it. She said that if it were up to Nelson, NASA would still be entirely dependent on Russia’s Soyuz rocket to send astronauts to the International Space Station.
She recalled an incident where Nelson, then a Florida senator, took her to task for allowing private companies a chance to propose alternatives to NASA programs.
“In one particularly uncomfortable one-on-one meeting in his Senate hideaway, the intensity of his ire felt personally threatening,” Garver wrote. “In response to public comments Elon Musk had made about SpaceX’s ability to improve on NASA existing programs, Bill Nelson shouted at me to ‘get your boy Elon in line.'”
A spokesperson for NASA and Nelson did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.
In her book, Garver describes an environment where senators and NASA workers were motivated more by self-interest than the greater good of the program.
“NASA’s leaders were typically astronauts and engineers who didn’t question the public value or relevance of their activities, indeed, many considered flying themselves and their friends in space to be an entitlement,” Garver said. “They had little interest in transitioning what they enjoyed and got paid to do over to the private sector and they assumed that was their decision.”
The space community’s early opposition to SpaceX is well documented. In 2010, Neil Armstrong was one of several astronauts to diss the commercial space industry.
“I was very sad to see that,” Musk told “60 Minutes” in 2012. “Those guys are heroes of mine, so it’s really tough.”
Garver said her support of commercial space initiatives — as well as her gender — made her a “target.” She described an environment that was often hostile, despite her role as second in command.
“Many who disagreed with my views attacked me with vulgar, gendered language, depredation, and physical threats,” Garver wrote. “I’ve been called an ugly whore, a motherfucking bitch, and a cunt; told I need to get laid, and asked if I’m on my period or going through menopause.”
The ‘space barons’
In her book, Garver is quick to praise Musk, Bezos, and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. She affectionately dubs them the “space barons.”
“Whether we personally like the billionaire space titans as individuals is beside the point,” she wrote. “By all accounts, they are following established laws, and instead of investing in space companies, they could be spending all of their money on creature comforts that do little for our national economy.”
Garver said she quickly developed close personal relationships with all three. Her discussions with Bezos were “like talking to a friend I’ve known for years,” Garver wrote. She says Branson is the “most naturally charismatic” of the group and credits him with making space tourism glamorous.
But, Garver’s highest praise is saved for Musk and Spacex — which she says is leaps and bounds ahead of other space ventures.
“My story is difficult to separate from Elon’s because I wouldn’t have managed to pull off much of a transformation at NASA without him and SpaceX. We’ve bled for the same cause and amassed the same enemies,” she wrote. “We each needed the other to succeed.”
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