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Casey DreierAugust 9, 2013

NASA Leadership Moving On

Not-so-breaking news (it broke a few days ago) that NASA's Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, is taking a job with the Air Line Pilots Association:

Lori B. Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator for the past four years, will leave next month to take the top staff position at the Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 50,000 pilots in the United States and Canada.

Ms. Garver, 52, who works at NASA headquarters in Washington, was often the public face — and lightning rod for criticism — of the Obama administration’s efforts to push NASA in new directions. The White House wanted to cancel the program started under President George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon, and scale back the agency’s role in designing rockets and spacecraft.

This, of course, is the infamous fight over Commercial Crew and the cancellation of the Constellation program. In the end, Congress directed NASA to build the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and Orion crew capsule, as well as run a moderate-sized commercial crew program.

Garver isn't the only top-level staff to announce their departure. NASA's CFO, Beth Robinson, was recently nominated to fill a position at the Department of Energy. She will remain NASA's CFO until her new position is approved by the Senate.

We don't yet know if the President will bother appointing anyone to replace Garver and Robinson for the final two years of his administration, though Garver strongly hinted that a new Deputy will be nominated. SpaceNews is already speculating on who the next Deputy Administrator might be. Dan Goldin, a previous NASA Administrator, went his entire term without a Deputy, and federal agencies are used to operating for long periouds of time with vacant political positions.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it's no secret that both Garver and Robinson gave low priority to NASA's Planetary Science Division. So it's possible we may see NASA start to fight for planetary exploration in its annual budget, and maybe even request to increase funding (and start listening to Congress).

Garver is a very strong supporter of the private space industry, and they will surely feel this loss. My guess is that Garver feels secure enough about the future of the commercial crew/resupply program to leave the agency.

As for the Asteroid Retrieval Mission, it remains to be seen how strongly NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will fight. Garver was a strong supporter of that mission, too, though it faces a much rockier path to success. The U.S. House of Representatives is very strongly against it, while the Senate is offering middling support. I don't see Garver or Robinson's departure as boding well for this program.

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Casey Dreier

Director of Space Policy for The Planetary Society
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