Planetary Radio • May 06, 2020

The Crew Dragon Countdown Begins With Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

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Lori Garver

Author and Former Deputy Administrator for NASA

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Jason Davis

Senior Editor for The Planetary Society

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Lori Garver may have been the strongest advocate of commercial space development in her days at NASA. Now one of that program’s greatest goals is about to achieved with the flight of American astronauts to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon spaceship. The Planetary Society’s Jason Davis previews what to expect from the SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Also, headlines from The Downlink, and Venus shining bright in What’s Up with Bruce Betts.

Lori Garver
Lori Garver Lori Garver’s official NASA portrait from her 2009-2013 tenure as Deputy Administrator.Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls
SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in preparation for the Demo-2 launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.Image: SpaceX
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken inside Crew Dragon
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken inside Crew Dragon NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken familiarize themselves with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the spacecraft that will transport them to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Their upcoming flight test is known as Demo-2, short for Demonstration Mission 2. The Crew Dragon will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.Image: NASA

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Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Countdown to Crew Dragon, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of a human adventure across our Solar System and beyond. Thanks for letting us join you in these challenging times.

As Deputy Administrator for NASA, Lori Garver may have been the most influential advocate for what we now call Commercial or new space. Now, seven years after her departure from the agency, a dream will become real when two astronauts head for the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center.

Join me for a conversation with Lori about the long road to this moment and much more. First though, Planetary Society editorial director, Jason Davis, will give us an overview of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission and its status. Later, Bruce Betts will assure me that rumors of a supernova in our own solar system [00:01:00] are entirely unfounded, but there's still much to see in the night sky and there's a new space trivia contest to enter.

Speaking of Jason Davis, we can thank him for space headlines in the down link each week. Here's a sampling of the latest. If you've been with us for a while, you've heard our coverage of the Mars helicopter that the Perseverance rover will carry to the red planet. That tiny, innovative flying machine now has a name given to it by an Alabama high school student. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Ingenuity.

China has also come up with a name for its Mars visitor. The upcoming mission is Tianwen-1. I'm going to make you wait for this week's what's up to learn what that means.

NASA has selected three companies, Blue origin, Dianetics, and SpaceX to design spacecraft that could land astronauts on the moon as early as 2024. The agency will work with them on their very different concepts over the next 10 months. [00:02:00] More about this as ahead when I talk with Lori Garver.

As always, you'll find the latest edition of the downlink at By the way, you can sign up to receive it each week for free, and while you're at it, you might want to visit news to subscribe to my monthly Planetary Radio newsletter. Also free, naturally. Let's hear from Jason Davis. Jason, something big to look forward to as soon as May 27th.

Jason Davis: Yeah, just a little minor, uh, rocket launch from Florida-

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs].

Jason Davis: ... With people in it. Uh, so [laughs] yeah, very exciting. And you know, we could really use some excitement to, uh, break up the monotony of this, uh, quarantine that's still going on.

The first Crew Dragon flight, the SpaceX Crew Dragon flight with two astronauts on it is finally going to launch, um, from Florida. This is such a long time in the making. Uh, 2011 was the last time we had launch [00:03:00] orbit from Florida on space shuttle Atlantis. Of course, that was the end of the shuttle program. Uh, at that point, you know, we went into this uneasy period where we weren't sure when we were going to get, uh, some kind of replacement vehicle. Would it be Orion, would it be Commercial Crew? Commercial Crew developed over the years. And finally, after all of these milestones that the various companies have met, SpaceX is ready to go and we're going to get a test flight. So super pumped about it.

Mat Kaplan: For all of our Canadian listeners, and we have many of course including some of our colleagues, they are Bob and Doug.


I think it's just great.

Jason Davis: It is great. And it's just, they're very simple down-home astronaut names and the traditional like the, uh, the mercury astronauts, you know, just these straight shooter kind of guys. Doug Hurley, um, and Bob or Bob Behnken are both veterans, spaceflight veterans. They both flew on two shuttle flights. Both of them are in-test pilots. So you really cannot get more, [00:04:00] uh, experience on your, um, first crew than, than this, you know.

It's very much in the tradition of uh, John Young and Bob Crippen, two astronauts who flew on Columbia for the very first time. It's very much a test flight. These guys are going to launch, uh, on May 27th, like you said, if all goes well. They'll arrive at the international space station less than a day later and, uh, dock with it. They will do some manual flying we've heard in-orbit to kind of test out the vehicle a little bit. Uh, and if all goes well, they'll, um, stay there for at least a month. NASA is going to make the decision based on how things go, how long they will stay there. Uh, the maximum could be up to 119 days, we're hearing. So what, that's like, uh, four months.

Really got our fingers crossed for these two guys, and I'm really hoping everything goes smoothly. Um, I mean, I don't know about you Matt, do you remember what it feels like to watch that thing?

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Jason Davis: You know, it's been so long. Like, my anxiety level, it's gonna, it's really hard to predict how I'm going to feel watching this. [00:05:00] Um, but I'm sure I'm going to be super nervous for them.

Mat Kaplan: A- a- absolutely. And super thrilled. I mean, I was on the dry lake bed when Crippen and Young came back in Columbia on from that first flight of the shuttle. And I bet that these new guys, Bob and Doug, they're not that new actually, they're veterans. I bet they'd be pretty proud to be compared to them as, as you have just done.

Jason Davis: Oh, absolutely, I bet they would. Yeah. And you know, they're going to go down in history as being the first astronauts to fly on a fully commercial mission like this. Um, it's going to be a big milestone in the record book, so they should be very proud of themselves.

Mat Kaplan: I'm sure that NASA, and even more sure that Boeing was hoping that they would have their Starliner the CST 100 ready for a human test just about the same time, but it looks like it's gonna be a while.

Jason Davis: Yeah. You know, the SpaceX and Boeing were kind of neck and neck. It always seemed like SpaceX had a slight advantage, um, getting this first prestigious test flight with people on it. [00:06:00] But then, um, Boeing's demo flight, they had an uncrewed demo flight and it just did not go very well at all. They weren't even able to make it to the space station and dock. Um, NASA found a bunch of software problems afterwards. Whereas, uh, Space X test flight went very smoothly for Crew Dragon.

Of course, space had an explosion then of that same Crew Dragon capsule on the ground, so that set them back and it, it just, uh, was going back and forth to see, you know, what company was going to be ready first. Yeah. So I'm sure Boeing's disappointed, but you know, they'll, they'll get their day eventually. At least we hope so. That's the plan.

Mat Kaplan: And we wish them the greatest of success as well.

Jason Davis: Yeah.

Mat Kaplan: Just one, one more question. The cool factor. Uh-

Jason Davis: [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: It just seems to be a priority at SpaceX. I mean it's, and it's in everything. The spacesuits, the touchscreen controls in the Crew Dragon, even the little gangway that extends from that tower at that classic launchpad 39A, that will take them out [00:07:00] to the Crew Dragon's, uh, capsules. It ... I don't know, it reminds me of 2001 of Space Odyssey. It had that, it has that kind of look.

Jason Davis: That's really where they have always, I think had the edge when it comes to public relations, you know. It's just really hard to deny the inspirational and cool factor that they have when they do all of their things, you know. Who else is landing rockets horizontally? Uh, sorry, not horizontally, vertically is the, uh, [laughs] the right way to land your rocket. Uh, you know, but who can deny how cool that's been and watching all that happen and like you said, all the panache that they have. And we're hearing also that they're going to drive out to the pad in what else? A Tesla Model X. [laughing]. So you know, they can't even have a, um, you know, an old Airstream van like the NASA days. Nope. They've got to do it cool for that too. So, um, going to be pretty cool.

Mat Kaplan: Panache indeed. Jason, thank you very much for this.

Jason Davis: Thanks man. Always great to talk to you.

Mat Kaplan: That's Jason Davis. He's the editorial [00:08:00] director for the Planetary Society. He follows all this stuff along with, uh, being our primary reporter on LightSail. The LightSail 2, which is, uh, sailing over your head right now.

I first met Lori Garver many years ago when she was executive director of the National Space Society After two stints with NASA that included her service as Deputy Administrator under Charles Bolton, several years as a consultant and her leadership of a professional organization, Lori is now CEO and co founder of Earthrise Alliance. She'll tell us more about this nonprofit and her other activities toward the end of my illuminating conversation with her. But it's the launch set for the end of this month that has brought her back to Planetary Radio.

You'll hear her mention a couple of acronyms that may not be familiar. COTS or Commercial Orbital Transportation Services was the NASA program begun during the George W. Bush [00:09:00] administration that was embraced and continued during the Obama years.

[Clips 00:09:05] is a much more recent development. As part of the Artemis effort to return humans to the moon, the goal of the commercial lunar payload services program is to see private companies build landers that will carry NASA and other payloads to the lunar surface. The first mission may lift off as soon as next year.

It's possible that without Lori's leadership, Clips and many other commercial space efforts would not have happened. Perhaps not even the commercial crew launch by SpaceX that is days away.

Lori, welcome back, uh, it's an honor and a pleasure to talk to you once again on Planetary Radio.

Lori Garver: Thank you, Matt. It's great to be with you.

Mat Kaplan: As you know, a big milestone coming up tentatively scheduled at least for May 27th, the, uh, first launch of two Americans back into orbit anyway on a, on American spacecraft on an American spacecraft than an [00:10:00] American rocket. Something that, um, you may be foresaw and worked hard for a long time ago. Um, fi- first your thoughts about this, this, uh, launch, which as we speak is now only about three weeks away.

Lori Garver: Oh my goodness. Uh, my heart races when I just think about it. You mentioning it causes me to be, I think, uh, I'm very excited about it. I know we all wish it wouldn't have taken so long to get here, but-

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: ... After the shuttle was retired, uh, we knew there would be a gap between when we could launch from the United States, our, our astronauts to space station and very excited we're finally here and wish them all success.

Mat Kaplan: Of course we join you in that. You said it's, it's a little bit later than we thought it would, longer than we thought it would take. Including you I mean. I've, I saw stuff as I did my research, uh, multiple times. Predictions that it looked like 2017 and of course now three years later, is this [00:11:00] just another piece of evidence that space is hard?

Lori Garver: This actually has, um, more, uh, significant reasons. When we were marching toward 2017, we proposed a program at a level of funding that was not reached for the first, I think four years [laughs]. So unlike some of the bigger programs, certainly like SLS that got what they requested from the administration by Congress and more every year, and it was triple what Commercial Crew got, we requested 500 million and we got 250. We requested [laughs] 850, we got 400.

You cannot expect programs to remain on schedule without funding them properly. Every time that happened, I would try to explain to Congress that they were going to be spending more money paying the Russians for these flights if they didn't invest in US industry. [00:12:00] But for years, that was not met with support. I am thrilled that it eventually did become fully funded when the path became more clear. I think people might've been holding on earlier that some of NASA's own vehicles like Aries would have been restarted or something. But, this was very frustrating at the beginning.

Of course there were additional delays. I don't think we can blame all of it on the funding. When in 2008 I was there on transition team and we had the stimulus budget, I had put full funding for COTS D in that budget in 2008, and that was SpaceX had bid with the COTS program to launch people into space. And that at the time was less than $350 million. But very unfortunate situation [laughs] with internal NASA and the Senate would not allow that to go forward, [00:13:00] and it is frustrating. That didn't happen because if we'd started that funding in 2008 instead of really probably about 2013 when it started to get enough money, we would be launching by now in my view.

Mat Kaplan: I'm going to come back to that big SLS rocket before too long you won't be surprised to hear. I- I wonder about your thoughts generally about the status of not just commercial crew, but all these commercial efforts. I mean, commercial cargo to the ISS now well established. But are you satisfied with where things are now and, and looking forward to as we continue to see it now reaching out toward the moon?

Lori Garver: I think overall, NASA has done a great job with these programs. Change is hard. The administration before ours really started COTS, the Bush administration, Mike Griffin, uh, get credit for that. [00:14:00] Before that, Dan Golden when I was there. I remember him saying, "We're going to turn over the keys to the space station and the space shuttle to the private sector." This is not a new concept. It took a long time. But I know we get a lot of criticism for changing goals between administrations. I'm not one who typically does that, mainly because NASA is funded by the public and it's a democracy. But also because 90% of NASA programs stay the same.

Uh, we did not take down COTS. We built upon it. The administration after ours didn't take down Commercial Crew, they've doubled down on it. There's a number of science programs, uh, all the science programs except for a couple of our science programs continue. Mars 2020 was our administration.

You know, I think we get a bad rap for the people who like to think NASA shouldn't have to follow a political direction, but we're getting [00:15:00] public money. So that's the way it works in a democracy.

Mat Kaplan: I was going to ask you about that. I mean after all, uh, with the strong support it got largely from your leadership during the Obama administration, it is still appearing to, if anything have grown in the Trump era. Do you think that this is still the best way for us to go, or in some kind of balance with, uh, programs that NASA manages entirely on its own or, or [laughs] are through contracts, those famous cost plus contracts with uh, ... Or for example, the builders of the SLS?

Lori Garver: There's plenty that NASA does that probably needs to remain in a procurement more like a cost plus contract. Commercial programs is a bit general and a misnomer. In my view, things that are commercial and will be successful in a different way of procurement are those that also have a market beyond just the government or just [00:16:00] NASA. So launch was one of those that was ripe for contracting in a new way. We had already had the private sector doing Atlas and Delta. The United Launch Alliance had lost all their commercial business because it was a sole provider to the government and could therefore price very high.

Starting in the '90s, lots of private sector interests started looking at launch, how could they reduce the cost and SpaceX managed to really do that when we were creating policies and it looked like the space shuttle wouldn't be lasting forever. And they ended up putting their own money in and competing because they knew they could win that commercial business as well as the NASA business.

So some of the things that we're talking about doing commercially, like the lunar missions Clips, I'm not sure that's commercial in the classic sense. Because at least for a while I don't know who [00:17:00] the market is beyond now.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I've talked to some of the Clips folks who you know, are banking on, uh, providing space for tiny little payloads. Like you know, we want to send a lock of your hair to the moon, but uh, it doesn't seem like that's something that's going to be able to sustain a, a market up there on, on lunar.

Lori Garver: Well, you know, space station commercialization has been something that we've been searching for, for 20 years also-

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: ... And there's been a few successes, but no one can ever find, has yet found anything that will pay for the large costs of doing business on the space station.

Mat Kaplan: [inaudible 00:17:37].

Lori Garver: Much of that was the launch costs. And what's very exciting right now is the launch costs are so greatly reduced that there are more things we're doing in space, mainly with satellites commercially, and companies making lots of money selling data back to both private sector and governments for things they are able [00:18:00] to do from that unique vantage space.

So, space transportation was very, very ripe for commercialization. And obviously communication satellites before that, remote sensing in my view now, very, very commercially driven, even to the extent that the military and the intelligence community buy data. They don't build their own satellites.

Mat Kaplan: That's former NASA Deputy Administrator and champion of commercial space development, Lori Garver. She'll be back with much more after this break.

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Do you still have hope that with a fair amount of research going on, on the ISS, uh, and, and some interesting stuff we've talked on this show about brain tissue being brought there and, uh, growing retinas, artificial retinas and so on, uh, the biomedical side. Do you still hope that the ISS might be the platform that will discover something in microgravity that, uh, might actually pay for itself?

Lori Garver: Sure. I- I, um, would hope for that [laughs]. We hope the pandemic will end in a week, um, or we'll get a vaccine in a month. Um, we really run at space station, I was very involved in the late '90s, early '2000s with a program that was developing liver tissue and the [00:21:00] bioreactors so you could test metabolites on it that we got commercial funding for. And after Challenger Columbia rather, they could not afford the gap in research. So there could be something in the future.

My view is that that will more likely happen in another version of a station that has much lower operations costs.

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. When you left NASA in 2013, the Commercial Space Federation and others saluted your leadership, you were called a stalwart champion of commercial space and public private partnerships. A lot of so-called new space pioneers, uh, felt that they were losing their biggest, uh, advocate. It wasn't always this way. I mean there were so many doubters early on. Could you talk about the challenges that you and, and a few others faced years ago in trying to steer this big agency and the nation, in this direction?

Lori Garver: Yes. [00:22:00] Well, that, it- it was really a challenge at the beginning and I wasn't even at the beginning. I would say there were so many people who worked at this and who I learned from when I was at the National Space Society in the '80s and '90s. I already mentioned Dan Golden and in the '90s, his interest in doing this and we really were focused on space station and space transportation.

But coming back as the Deputy Administrator, I probably was a little surprised that this was not seen as more obvious to be the answer for space transportation because it was so obvious to me and to lots of people before me. When we started getting people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos interested and it was becoming real, what happened was, in my view, that the entrenched interests who were getting hundreds of millions more, sometimes billions more than doing it commercially, [00:23:00] that gets you a lot of support in Washington.

NASA is at its core government funded bureaucracy. This is a problem with military productions as well, especially when you're purchasing hardware, people want these jobs in their districts, they don't want them canceled. And in commercial programs, you can't be assured that the wind is going to happen in your district. At least with the launch, I- I tried to have Senator Nelson see that they would be not just launching the very same payloads the government had been launching, but they would be reducing the price so there could be more launches in Florida. But this was difficult when you had the big lobbyists, the entrenched self-interests against it.

Boeing bidding on Commercial Crew was a huge breakthrough [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: Um, recognizing they would then have to have a foot in both camps. When we started to get more support, I think there was in general a view that, [00:24:00] okay, it's not just for Elon, it's not just for SpaceX.

I used to joke, I, you know, people, people culturally, were used to a big aerospace company that had lobbyists and did what the government wanted them to and said what the government wanted them to and didn't sue the government when they lost that. That, that was a different culture. This was a major shift. And as you said, it's a big, big agency, and it wasn't just us, it was the military and they were even slower to come about than we were. I can remember meetings in The Pentagon where sitting across from me were generals just making fun of me for supporting SpaceX and saying he would never launch.

Uh, you know, that was before they launched payloads, much less people. So, when you think about it, even though we would have loved for it to come sooner, this change has in some ways been fairly rapid.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. I was at [00:25:00] KFC when a Falcon Heavy lifted off nearly a year ago now carrying our LightSail two spacecraft and we were just a little tiny secondary payload down there. Now there's word that that big rocket might be approved for more military launches,. Blue Origin's New Glenn on its way, apparently. You've pointed to these commercial heavy lift vehicles when you've, uh, talked about the SLS, that Space Launch System. We may see it finally lift off in late 2021, but, uh, it sure is, as you said, generating a lot of support, a lot of those jobs and districts all over the country, right?

Lori Garver: Yes. Uh, as I mentioned, there are lots of unique things that NASA does that are suitable for cost plus contracts where there isn't a market beyond. And NASA decided after being pushed by the Senate and the contractors and those self-interested, that those contracts that were for Constellation needed to be extended and we needed to do our own heavy [00:26:00] lift vehicle. I, um, believe that after tens of billions of dollars, if it launches, it's, it's going to be still too expensive to fly. We're going to not have as many missions because they're going to have to pay the billion plus a flight for SLS, so ...

Of course, I was at a Falcon Heavy launch as well, it was very exciting to see and-

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: ... I did hope that once that was proven to be something successful, that those who fund the SLS would recognize the futility of continuing to spend that money because that's money we could spend on missions. But alas, they have not. And so as you said, maybe SLS will launch at the end of 2021, and I think meanwhile it has undercut investments that we could have had in heavy lift vehicles. Again, because the market, you know, who wants to compete with a government? [laughs][00:27:00] developing tens of billions of dollars towards something, Elon and Jeff have both said, well, they're going to still do what they're going to do. It just won't be done as quickly.

Mat Kaplan: It's an interesting hybrid model. Even when you look now toward the moon, which of course SLS is supposed to be the vehicle that will get humans there, but NASA just awarded at least preliminary contracts to these three companies, one of which may carry that as Jim Bridenstine likes to say, the first woman and the next man back to the surface of the moon. Uh, what is it? The SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dianetics? It's an interesting hybrid. I mean, w- what do you think of the progress of the so-called Artimus program, which is we were told by Bridenstine just three weeks ago, still hoping that humans are going to get their pandemic be damned by 2024.

Lori Garver: Yeah, that's, that's great. And we can all hope that. I think it's unrealistic, but there's nothing wrong necessarily with, with [00:28:00] hoping and trying to do this quickly. I recognize politically, is something not only that was built into the program, but it's, um, it does help over time. Because especially when you're carrying large programs like SLS and Orion, the more years you take to develop it, the more you're going to spend.

Um, not having been at NASA for a number of years, I don't know specifically how the progress is going. I think that these awards for getting the architecture, this is nearly a billion dollars. It seems like for less than a year these companies are going to come out with different architectures and I also was fascinated that a couple will use L- SLS. Obviously SpaceX will bid, they're heavy, um, to see where all that comes out. Because if there is a new president and there are options, that's probably a good thing.

I have no idea, whether or not the, the overall program is in the kind of [00:29:00] advanced state that it would need to be to really land in 2024 for. From doing the transition team in 2008 and 2009 and uncovering what the NASA program of record Constellation said they were on track to do and what they were actually on track to do were two entirely different things. I have no idea if that's the case now, but should there be a change in administrations early next year, someone's going to come in and figure that out.

Mat Kaplan: What would you expect to see? I mean, of course we won't know for six months if there is going to be a transition, but, uh, a big changes often happen at those times, right?

Lori Garver: Well, it is a democracy and the executive branch gets to create a budget and Congress gets to decide ultimately what we spend, but the administration sets policy. I have been involved in a number of transitions, both incoming and outgoing when I left NASA in 2001 working with [00:30:00] the incoming transition. It's something that in my view, is a magnificent thing and we take it very seriously because in this country, the transition of power being done peacefully should not be taken for granted. And it was an honor to lead the NASA transition in '08 and '09 and I believe that whoever comes in, again, if there is a new team, will have the same intensity of purpose.

You do not come in and recommend to a president to do something that is not supported by the actual program. You know, I know there was a lot of criticism for canceling Constellation, but it was not something that was sustainable and we had a blue ribbon panel with Norm Augustine, the former head of Lockheed Martin-

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: ... Saying that as well as, as astronauts and so forth. So that I know will, will be difficult for some, if the program is not aligned with the [00:31:00] rhetoric. But I have no reason to believe it isn't, you know. I would say just as I did anyone coming in, will have an open mind, and administration is going to want to make sure they're doing important things of value and doing them in the most efficient and effective way possible.

In general, I think that will be a transition team's charge. In our transition team, in addition to that, we had a number of specific things, earth sciences being one of them. Uh, science and technology, new technology driving economic advancement was another core central driver for what we were asked to do on transition team. So a Biden transition team may have their own unique, uh, sets of goals for each team. Those will be yet to know.

Mat Kaplan: I think I could extrapolate from this advice that you might offer to an incoming team, [00:32:00] uh, but is there anything else that you would add to that as somebody who's, um, been through this?

Lori Garver: There's a lot of, I think, misunderstandings within NASA circles around transitions that people think it's, it's somehow wrong to have a transition or to modify anything. And again, from both outgoing and incoming, there's a lot about transitions that are healthy. It is a time to really assess what you're doing in a way that, okay, maybe you went down a path, maybe you [laughs], uh, had to cover something up because you never admitted that was a cost over run. A team isn't going to do that with a new president. I think they, they can be healthy. I also think they come in on a wave.

Say your NIH, the National Institutes of Health, they will come in and there will be executive orders immediately that allow them to do things that the people who elected them expect them to do. Such as probably [00:33:00] using fetal tissue for research. That is something that when the past five Republicans came in, they stopped.

There are things like that at NASA. Earth sciences is clearly going to be one of them. This is not only my, my job now, it was a huge priority for the Obama administration and we had growing earth science budgets. Administrator Bridenstine is fond of saying he has the biggest earth science budget now as there's ever been if you account for inflation. I don't see how that's true, but in addition to that, they have not requested those increases [laughs]. Those have been given to them by a Democratic Congress.

So, I think you will see some changes and people shouldn't take those as negative. It's I think a, a very healthy thing. And if the Trump administration is in office, again, they will continue I'm sure to, uh, run at what they're doing. Most of NASA does not change [00:34:00] in a transition. I think we had less than 20 political appointees in our administration and that's out of 18,000 employees, so ... It's actually not as dramatic as, as people fear.

Mat Kaplan: Fascinating though to consider the transition, which is so often just seen as, uh, a time of upheaval, as something that can have very positive, um, positive results as well.

By way of beginning to talk about your new job, the job that you're devoted to now, I- I want to go back to a piece I found from last July. Uh, a opinion piece that you wrote, which was headlined, "Forget new man to missions in space, NASA should focus on saving earth." Sounds pretty clear that you feel that NASA's capabilities. its role to play, uh, in dealing with climate changes is, is pretty vital.

And it does seem like NASA has played an awfully important role. I mean, you [00:35:00] see, so much of the really good data has come from NASA research and, and NASA spacecraft.

Lori Garver: So let's start with as anyone who, if you've written an opinion editorial for a major national paper, you do not write the headline.

Mat Kaplan: I was gonna mention that.

Lori Garver: When that headline-

Mat Kaplan: I didn't think that was you.

Lori Garver: ... Got attached to my article, I immediately called the Washington Post. This is not what the article says. It's not ... And they got it changed in the print edition that said "Earth, our next moonshot. Earth is our next moonshot," which I prefer that title, but at any rate, it is what it is. I do believe that NASA is at its best when it is tied into solving a national or in this case, global challenge. We forget that landing on the moon was not to land on the moon. It was to beat the Russians. And the only reason we got our budgets quintupled was because we were aligned [00:36:00] with a national purpose. We had gone into a war for the same purpose. You know, this was something that was universal. There are all types now of recordings and you had President Kennedy say, I don't even like space. I'm only doing this to beat the Russians.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Lori Garver: In my view, we have tried to relive that type of a mission without the purpose. NASA has been somewhat in search for years, decades, of another raison d'être, a purpose and presidents, at least five I believe, have set goals of, " We're going to the moon by this date, we're going to Mars by this date, we're going to asteroid by this date." None of them have come to pass. Not because those presidents didn't have a wonderful speech. A lot of people blame those presidents for not following up. They didn't follow up because it wasn't meaningful. There wasn't a drive to do it that was meaningful. Kennedy [00:37:00] followed up because he wanted to beat those Russians [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lori Garver: ... And so what's our purpose now? So to me, you look at things that NASA does that have a real need to be solved, and NASA has a unique role to play and that is climate change and protection of earth's environment so that human society doesn't need to suffer and have the huge issues, frankly that we're seeing. Things like the pandemic give us a little taste of what human suffering on a global scale looks like. And NASA has the best brand in the world. They can rise to that challenge. What they have taught us about our own earth's environment, we would not know otherwise. It is such a unique vantage that we have, and NASA has driven so much of that research, but they stopped short of doing anything about it.

We keep saying, and even I think past administrations, we just [00:38:00] study, it's not our job to do anything about it. Again, to my example of NIH, what if NIH said, we just study cancer, we don't do anything about it. Our scientists at NASA are the best in the world. They could combine with other very important agencies in the US and around the planet, be helping us find solutions for mitigation, for measurement, for prediction, and for ultimately, adaptation.

Mat Kaplan: Did this uh, obvious, uh, passion commitment that I hear in what you're saying help drive you to co-found the organization that you are now CEO for, Earthrise Alliance?

Lori Garver: Yes, absolutely. I, I have, uh, been interested in earth sciences since grad school. I, I came up with a paper, I'd done it in grad school about Landsat, um, and every speech, I pretty much mentioned it during the time I was a Deputy [00:39:00] Administrator. We had a lot of plans that we didn't fully be able to manage. We lost OCO, one of the first things that happened.

Mat Kaplan: Orbiting Carbon Observatory, right?

Lori Garver: The, the first Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Immediately managed to get the second one funded, but of course that was a setback. I tried to get more instruments externally on space station for earth science. At the time, there was a lot of pushback. I'm thrilled that is taking place now.

A lot of these things we know because of those advances. I think it's really exciting to be part of a field that is not only going to help billions of people, but the science, we are just learning it now. And we are discovering things and because we've reduced the cost of getting to space and the size and expense of satellites, you are having exponentially more ability to test instruments and to learn things [00:40:00] than ever before. I've named it Earthrise because I had earth rise. R-I-S-E stands for Renaissance In Sensing the Environment. We are in a renaissance of combining lower costs for the transportation, for the satellites with increased modeling capability as well as storage and access. If you didn't have all of that, we wouldn't know what we know today and we wouldn't be able to take these steps toward mitigation and adaptation that we are ripe to do.

And in my view, NASA is looked to as that beacon on the hill because we solved the impossible 50 years ago. This is the impossible today and NASA can play a key role in solving it.

Mat Kaplan: So what do you do at Earthrise Alliance? What is the mission? I- I mean I have read it, it involves educators, journalists, voters, decision makers. [00:41:00] How do you do this?

Lori Garver: The goal of Earthrise is to more fully utilize the data we have about earth to address climate change. So it is this recognition that we know more than we are utilizing to solve it. So part of that is writing things like the op-ed. We have educational programs, we have a network of journalists that we work with to help tell their environmental stories through imagery. We have agreements with the commercial imagery companies to be able to use that imagery for humanitarian purposes. And data scientists who have been using algorithms to be able to have students able to tell environmental stories on their smartphones.

You know, it's really, really a Renaissance of information and we are just a small nonprofit out there to leverage [00:42:00] information that already exists to benefit all of us on planet earth.

Mat Kaplan: We'll put a link to the website for Earthrise Alliance up on, on this week's show page-

Lori Garver: Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: ... That's how you get there. But, but what is that, uh, URL?

Lori Garver:

Mat Kaplan: Before I let you go, say something about this other thing that you've been involved with for a few years. The Brooke Owens Fellowship program.

Lori Garver: After I had left NASA, I was, um, very saddened to recognize that a dear friend who I had worked with during my NASA years and before, Brooke Owens, uh, was dying of cancer. She had been diagnosed with stage five breast cancer on her 30th birthday. She died much too young. And I had throughout my career, although I hadn't really focused on it at the time, recognized I was often the only [00:43:00] woman in the room at these senior levels in aerospace. It was something I deeply cared about. And having had the position I did at NASA allowed me this platform and ability to encourage companies to do more.

And so I had this thought, about developing a fellowship program where I could get maybe a handful of women in college each year who were interested in aerospace wanting to join our industry, but maybe didn't feel they had a right mentor, or maybe didn't know exactly what the field was, and maybe didn't know anyone else who looked like them, who was also wanting to do this. And so it created a fellowship. I reached out to the community. Will Pomerantz and Cassie Lee co founded it with me, and [laughs] we are now in our fourth year of having around 40 fellows a year who go into a summer internship program at all the major aerospace companies, [00:44:00] a professional mentor, senior people across the industry and a cohort of early career, young collegiate women who are motivated to stay in our industry.

And it has been the joy of my life meeting these young women, being able to mentor them. Being able to see our own community reach out to them and encourage them has been just so rewarding. I mean the Commercials Face the Dragon launch, it's going to be great, but you know what I really am proud of? A good number of brookies what we call our fellows-

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Lori Garver: ... Are working on it. [laughing]. And they're working on it because space ec- rec- recognized, wow, we don't have a lot of diversity in our teams and specifically reached out. They have been a huge supporter of the program. So these are the kinds of ... As has everyone, ho- honestly. It is just so rewarding to see from the commercial companies to the established companies. Boeing, Locky, Airbus also involved. It's, [00:45:00] it's a wonderful thing. I ... The summer is a struggle because some of the internships of course will need to be remotely held. We are working on our annual summit remotely and so forth. But we will, uh, I think, see a different workforce in the future somewhat, because of this fellowship. And that's, that's very rewarding for me.

Mat Kaplan: Great work Lori. One more question. Where are you going to be when Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley liftoff in Crew Dragon?

Lori Garver: Oh my goodness. As I have tweeted, I never thought there was anything that could keep me from that launch, but I'm afraid I was wrong. A number of us are planning a l- a live connection during it because our, our, our bond is very strong. As, uh, we talked about on the show, this wasn't always easy. It's a little bit of a, we were in the bunker together and we so want this to be a successful launch and it's great thing for our country. And [00:46:00] it is a great thing that it's crossed I think two presidents that didn't agree on much else. So we should all be, I think taking a lot of pride in this [inaudible 00:46:08]. So many people worked so hard to make it happen. And I know ... It's, it's very nice that I think so many people are going to be supportive of this and making sure they, they go successfully. So whenever it is, I wish them Godspeed.

Mat Kaplan: And I look forward to joining you virtually, at least in, in somebody's launch party. We're kicking around some plans at The Planetary Society and uh, and, and in fact, this conversation with you is, uh, the beginning of our preparation for this, uh, milestone in space, uh, which you had a lot to do with. Thank you very much Lori for, uh, this conversation again and, uh, for all this other work that you have done and are continuing to do.

Lori Garver: You are very welcome. I, uh, enjoyed talking with you.

Mat Kaplan: Former Deputy NASA Administrator [00:47:00] and advocate for commercial space development, Lori Garver. Bruce, and what's up our next.

Kate: Hi, this is Kate from The Planetary Society. How does space spark your creativity? We want to hear from you. Whether you make cosmic art, take photos through a telescope, write haikus about the planets or invent space games for your family. Really, any creative activity that's space related. We invite you to share it with us. You can add your work to our collection by emailing it to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks.

Mat Kaplan: Time again for what's up on Planetary Radio. At the other end of the, uh, pandemic approved Zencastr line, look it up is uh, Bruce Betts. He's the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, program manager for LightSail, which got mentioned earlier in the show, is still floating over your heads. Can I just start if you'll indulge me, I went out last night. [00:48:00] I was taking the trash out, and I looked up and there was Venus and it was so bright.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs].

Mat Kaplan: Now, bear with me. Is it just out of the question or could Venus have gone supernova?

Bruce Betts: [Laughs]. Uh, let me think about that. No. No-

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs].

Bruce Betts: ... kind of gone supernova. It is, uh, extremely bright. It's right near the brightest that it ever gets. Yeah. No. That, that would be very, very bad if something went supernova that close to us.

Mat Kaplan: I was hoping maybe you know that small, that one little violation of the [inaudible 00:48:37] our limit, might, might be allowed.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs]. For Matt, sure.

Mat Kaplan: Bend the rules. Uh, what else has happened at up there?

Bruce Betts: Less rules are ... They're more than guidelines, that's for sure.

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs].

Bruce Betts: All right. So, in the, uh, evening we have Venus looking super [00:49:00] bright, about as bright as it gets. Much, much brighter than anything else up in the night sky that's natural except the moon. And, uh, if you get a telescope in the next few days or weeks, uh, you can see it's got a nice crescent shape to it. It goes through phases just like the moon does. Now it's, it's crescening. And it's also starting to drop in the sky as it gets, uh, closer to the sun, so to speak, compared to the earth. So it'll actually be going away despite how high and bright it is. It'll be going away in the next few weeks, very few weeks, and then reappear in the morning sky sometime after that we're pretty sure. Unless it goes supernova

Mat Kaplan: [Laughs]. As a rule.

Bruce Betts: Now if you hold out until May 21st ... Well, you shouldn't hold out, you should check it out before then, but on May 21st in the evening west, but now low down, 'cause Venus will have gotten a lot lower, Venus and mercury will be very close together. Venus, the much brighter object, you'll need a pretty clear view to the [00:50:00] Western horizon. That's May 21st.

Going to the morning sky in the east we've got a lineup of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter with Jupiter the brightest in the upper right in the east and then lower left is Saturn and then much farther away is reddish Mars, which will be brightening over the coming months. And on the morning of May 13th, you can check out the moon hanging out in that lineup. Probably the 12th or the 14th it'll be in there one end or the other. So, uh, check it out. It's good stuff.

We move on to this weekend space history. It was 2009, 11 years ago that the last of five Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions launched with the STS-125 Space Shuttle mission. We of course just passed the 30th anniversary of the original launch and deployment of Hubble not that long ago. So guess what? We're going to come back and talk more about Hubble in just a moment.

Mat Kaplan: Good. I've got a, last week in space history. It [00:51:00] was literally last week as we speak that we did a WhatsApp live, the very first show, and it's now available at if, uh, anybody missed it and wants to hear Bruce and, and me doing WhatsApp, doing this except interacting with people and, and not, and being able to do any editing to make ourselves sound more intelligent.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs]. Don't discourage people from going to see it. Actually I will discourage them just to make clear that you've been warned. This is video. You will see our faces. We're sorry. You can always turn down the screen.

All right, we move on to random space facts. According to NASA, the Hubble Space Telescope can spot a nightlight on the surface of the moon from its orbit around earth. No word whether they've actually seen a nightlight on the surface of the moon-

Mat Kaplan: [00:52:00][Laughs]. Or what would be powering it? [laughs].

Bruce Betts: I don't know. The ... I assume the night lights were inside the lunar module. I mean it wouldn't make much sense to keep it, a nightlight outside.

Mat Kaplan: I wonder if buzz needed, a, a little nightlight.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs]. That's a funny image. Okay. We move on to the trivia contest. And I asked you what is the name of the launch space suit used for launch and landing in the Soyuz spacecraft and, what does it have to do with Japanese sample return missions and SpaceX rockets? How did we do Matt?

Mat Kaplan: You were very clever with this. A lot of people struggled with it. I heard from some of them who just could not come up with the connection. And that was because they didn't look up the meaning of the word that is that, that space suit.

Here's the answer from our poet Laureate, Dave Fairchild in Kansas. The so-called spacesuit has been used since 1973. [00:53:00] It's worn inside a capsule, not for outside, floating free. In Russian, it means Falcon, like the rocket SpaceX rides and Hayabusa is the same, a Peregrine that flies [laugh].

Bruce Betts: Nice.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you Dave. And, he is correct, of course, right?

Bruce Betts: He is indeed correct. The Sokol is the uh, Russian launch and endr- entry suit worn in all the Soyuz launches for a very long time, although they upgraded it at some point. Sokol means Falcon in Russian. Hayabusa means Peregrine Falcons, a kind of Falcon in, uh, Japanese and SpaceX flies Falcon rockets, hence the Falcon connection. [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: Here's our winner. And it was a good week to enter. Well, at least the odds were better, but they only really panned out for one person. And that person is Edith Wilson who is in Guelph, Canada, which by wonderful coincidence happens [00:54:00] to be the hometown of our e- esteem colleague Kate Howls, The Planetary Society's community engagement lead and Canadian space policy advisor. And in fact, she has met Edith. They've run into each other.

So, Edith, congratulations. You've won yourself a Planetary Society rubber astroid. And if you like, Bruce and I will record an outgoing message for your, uh, for your phone or for any other purpose. Can't run it on too long and we do have some standards.

Bruce Betts: [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: We'll, we'll explain that. You can read those in the fine print. Joon Chang, one of our listeners in China, in Beijing says to ... I didn't know that the first Chinese astronaut used a similar suit to Sokol until this trivia contest. Thanks Bruce. And just to share news, China's Planetary exploration program that is officially named Tianwen, that's from an ancient poem, it means questions to the sky. Isn't that romantic?

Bruce Betts: It is. It's very [00:55:00] nice.

Mat Kaplan: And then, another poem from Jean Lewin, who, uh, we hear from regularly up in Washington. Sam Wilson of Marvel comic fame in Russian, Sokol would be his name. Also, the suits the cosmonauts where to safely get from here to there. The air force Academy of the USA, it's mascot is this bird of prey. While a claim can be made by Hayabusa2, carrying a mascot to asteroid Ryugu, and that rockets from SpaceX is stable. Proudly use this avian label. They all differ, they are yet the same for all our Falcons and share that name.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]. That was very nice. Very nice.

Mat Kaplan: That's quite a bit of verse there. Yeah. Okay. We're ready to move on.

Bruce Betts: I don't know about you, Matt. In fact, I, I'm not sure you have, but since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope 30 years ago, I've gained some mass, some, some weight.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Bruce Betts: Well, it turns out, so has the Hubble Space Telescope. So here's your question. About how much [00:56:00] mass has the Hubble Space Telescope gained since it launched approximately? Go to

Mat Kaplan: You have until Wednesday, May 13 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time to get us this answer. I'm not exactly sure when we'll get it to you, but I have in my hand the prize that'll go to the winner of this new one. It's this terrific book, Moon Rush: The New Space Race from, uh, one of my heroes, Leonard David. Uh, I call him the Dean of space, uh, journalists. It's published by National Geographic. Still very much available, highly recommended. Great story of the space race and beyond actually.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Go out there and look up the night sky and think about why Palm trees have their own special name for that branch thing called a frond. I'm looking at one right now. Thank you. Goodnight.

Mat Kaplan: What a coincidence. I just cut off a whole bunch of them [laughs] in my backyard yesterday. So if you need any spare fronds, they're, they're still in the green waste, uh, [00:57:00] container outside.

He's Bruce Betts, the Chief Scientist of The Planetary Society who joins us every week here for what's up?

Bruce Betts: Wow. What a frond coincidence.

Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. And is made possible by its members who have joined the countdown. Blast off with us at

Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser.

You can catch my next live webinar for Explore Mars at My great panel will talk about mission architectures for getting humans to the red planet on Thursday, May 7th at 10:00 AM Pacific. And it will be available there later for on demand viewing.

Be safe everyone. Ad astra [00:58:00]