Planetary Radio • Jul 06, 2022
A Hero of the New Space Age: Lori Garver and Escaping Gravity
On This Episode
Author and Former Deputy Administrator for NASA
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
No one deserves more credit for enabling the new era of commercial space development than former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver. That includes the commercial crew program that brings astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Mat welcomes Lori back for a conversation about her excellent new memoir that tells the inside story of this achievement. You’ll get the chance to win “Escaping Gravity” in this week’s What’s Up space trivia contest.
- Lori Garver
- “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age”
- Why NASA pays SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the International Space Station
- The Downlink
- Subscribe to the monthly Planetary Radio newsletter
This Week’s Question: 27 stars are displayed on the national flag of Brazil. Only one of these is displayed above the white band crossing the center of the flag. What star and what Brazilian state does it represent?
This Week’s Prize:
A copy of Lori Garver’s new book “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age"
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, July 13 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
What are the names of the two cameras on the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube probe that is part of the DART asteroid redirect mission?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the June 22, 2022 space trivia contest:
How many torque rods, also known as magnetotorquers, does LightSail 2 have?
LightSail 2 has three torque rods or magnetotorquers, one to help control each axis of the spacecraft’s orientation.
Mat Kaplan: A hero of the new space age, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. The first SpaceX Dragon mission reached the international space station just 10 years ago. It may already be hard to believe that many in aerospace, in Congress, and even in NASA itself, tried to keep it and missions like it from happening. Lori Garver led the fight for commercial space transportation from inside the space agency. Now she's written a terrific book about those years of struggle, and much more. She'll join us in minutes to talk about Escaping Gravity. Later, you'll have the chance to win a copy when Bruce Betts arrives for What's Up. There are images of our solar system that look way too good to be real. A great example is at the top of the July 1st edition of The Downlink, our free weekly newsletter.
Mat Kaplan: We can thank the Cassini orbiter and the team for this nearly edge-on shot of rings, and four of Saturn's moons. Scroll a bit further down for a stunning photo of Mercury snapped by the European Space Agency's BepiColumbo, as it whizzed passed two weeks ago. Not every Downlink image is entirely real. Check out Uranus and its rings resting comfortably in an earthly patio, planetary society member Christian Shek created this striking composition. All this and more are at planetary.org/downlink. SpaceX Dragon capsules have completed more than 20 cargo missions to and from the international space station. The crewed Dragon variant has made seven flights with people on board, with many more to come. Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft has visited 17 times. Waiting in the wings is Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spaceplane, while Blue Origin's big New Glenn is in development. Several other companies, including Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, and Rocket Lab have had impressive successes, yet only one of these companies has existed for over 20 years.
Mat Kaplan: It's not just advanced technology that has enabled the newbies to find their place among the older goliaths of aerospace. Beginning in the late 2000s, these innovators and visionaries were supported by a small group of insurgents within NASA that dared to buck the establishment. They were led by our guest this week, former NASA deputy administrator, Lori Garver, has now documented the fight for new space and much more in her new book, Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age. The result has been dramatically cheaper access to orbit, that is now reaching out to our moon and beyond. Lori Garver, welcome back to Planetary Radio. It is such a pleasure always to talk to you, and to congratulate you this time on the publication of this absolutely terrific and very important book. Welcome.
Lori Garver: Thank you, Mat. It is always a pleasure to be with you.
Mat Kaplan: I appreciate that. I rarely know what I'm going to title an episode of Planetary Radio till shortly before it's published, but I knew what to call this one when I was only a few pages into the book. It's going to be called Lori Garver: Hero of the New Space Age. Not a gram of irony in there.
Lori Garver: Wow. That is something to live up to. I appreciate it. I don't always feel like a hero, but I'm glad this is on a good path.
Mat Kaplan: You have set us on that path. You and a lot of other people, some of those people may come up in the conversation that is about to follow. We're speaking several days before this conversation will be available to the audience. NASA put out a press release just in the last hour, and it's about Artemis One, that big space launch system rocket with the Orion capsule up on top, saying, well, here's the line. NASA has reviewed the data from the rehearsal, and determined the testing campaign is complete. That didn't take long, did it? Just a few decades
Lori Garver: Well, sure. That testing program was robust, and I think that we're all very hopeful that it is in fact complete.
Mat Kaplan: So your book, which is largely about the development of this gigantic government rocket in both of its incarnations, it's going to come up. And it's also about the alternative that you and that group that you title the space pirates were pushing for on a parallel track. I want to take you back to where you pretty much opened the book. That was an event that we both attended. I was working at the 2012 Planetfest celebration of the landing of Curiosity, as we all waited for it to be cranked down onto the surface of Mars. You were an honored guest and speaker invited by Bill Nye to talk about your late friend, Sally Ride. I had no idea why you were whisked away by security personnel. What was going on?
Lori Garver: Ah, yes, this is in the prologue, not really in the order of the book, nor did I anticipate putting it so early, but the publisher wanted to pull forward an exciting story to kick-off and this is what they selected. So I like that, in that it's really important to keep in mind these big, important, audacious things that NASA does successfully, and the Mars science laboratory in Curiosity was one of them. I also love that it included The Planetary Society actually, and Bill Nye, not to mention Sally Ride. It was an honor of my life to... It's even hard for me to say. I knew Carl Sagan. I was in meetings with him, and events, and of course, talked to him toward the end of his life. But really I chose his quote to open the book, from a pale blue dot, because he was so profoundly inspiring to so many of us.
Lori Garver: But the story you're referring to and why, when I got off the stage at that event, I was whisked away. I didn't know at the time there had been a security threat, at least NASA felt there had been, back at headquarters in Washington, DC. And it was unknown, I guess, whether or not they thought there was a bigger threat that also caused me to need to be protected out in Pasadena. But I was taken by a security guard to a private room. As I called to find out what was happening, it had been just an envelope addressed to me at NASA headquarters, an envelope with a white powdery substance in it with a threatening enough message that the person who opened the envelope was put in quarantine. And when I talked to security, they were still in quarantine and testing the substance.
Lori Garver: It really did not take long, and I don't want to make too much of this. It was fake, of course. Lots of people were receiving things like that in those days, frankly, but it was a little disheartening, of course. And I put it in juxtaposition to the seven minutes of terror we all felt on the entry... I always forget, it's not a reentry, we didn't launch from Mars... of the Mars Curiosity Rover, because really that's the whole point for me, is these things were personal risks, but they were worth it. They were worth it because we are all in the space community, really pursuing a larger cause. And I think that's the perspective that I wanted to bring to the book. So that story being forward is, we do individual things because they're important. And that was why I did what I did.
Mat Kaplan: I don't want to minimize this. This was pretty dramatic. I mean, that white powder had your name on it. And maybe it was the most dramatic example, but it was just one example of the awful, and sometimes frightening activity, that was focused on you back then. Some of it anonymously, some of it coming from well-known, respected individuals, including Apollo moonwalkers, and yet, not to coin a phrase, still you persisted. Why did you take on the daunting challenge that we'll be talking about? Many of these encountered when you were the second in command, the deputy administrator of NASA?
Lori Garver: Sure. I really did feel, and I try to say this in the book, the bigger picture was worth any sort of personal sacrifice or setback, because I truly believe we are moving out into space for reasons that benefit us all. But I'm going to just also acknowledge that in the day to day, it did become something to prove. I knew I was right. And the reason I knew I was right is that I had already been involved for 20, 25 years. The space pirates, as you said, are these people who are very smart, and had been pursuing reducing the cost of space transportation so that we could do more valuable things in space, and go out in a sustained way. NASA had been trying for decades to do this, but it's not that they didn't want to, it's that the system set up has the incentives completely backwards to reducing the cost.
Lori Garver: If you're contracting with a company that has shareholders, that needs to show a return on their investment, and they're going to get paid more and more the longer they take, that's what you're going to get. So I really don't like being as critical as I know some like to make me for click bait, because this is all understandable. And as you said, the point of the book is to show what we need to overcome. And it's up to the government to change those incentives. And I was in the government. I never thought I would have a role like I did. And so I think getting there, I was like, "Holy crap, I got to do something meaningful." I say I had the responsibility, in my view I wasn't going to go there and just lie to the president and say, "Oh yeah, everything's fine." We wanted to really dig in and make sure we returned the best, most valuable space program to the taxpayer. And I was lucky to work for a president, that's really what he wanted to do.
Mat Kaplan: I had Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University on the show a few weeks ago, who's faced a lot of challenges in her life as well. She said something interesting, and I just wonder if it also speaks to you, that it's so much easier to face a lot of hardships, personal and otherwise, when you know that you are working toward a goal that is so much bigger than, to quote the movie Casa Blanca, the little hill of beans that our personal problems amount to.
Lori Garver: 100%. That is what keeps you going. Not worth fighting about little things. As I say in this, this was no small work. I let a lot of things go, in fact, that I could have thought about, but this is where I chose to bend my pick. Because I had learned, Dan Goldin called it... the head of NASA in the '90s... untying the Gordian knot. Reducing the cost, increasing the reliability of space access was that holy grail. And this was the very best way we needed to go about doing it, to give our chance, our best chance, to make it. Now, of course, we needed lots of other things to come together, and SpaceX being the most important one, really, since that is who has made it successful to this point. So I don't want to minimize other's contributions. I just happened to be in a position at a time when somebody needed to stand up to the constituencies that were incentivized to keep doing what we were doing.
Mat Kaplan: Here is a line that addresses that. It's from roughly the middle of the book. It could just about be the theme of this memoir, I think. You said, "Escaping the trappings of power has proven harder than escaping gravity."
Lori Garver: Yeah, that's a great one. I had no idea what we were going to pick out. And it's also interesting because this book was titled a couple of things. Earlier, when I started, I was calling it Bureaucrats and Billionaires: The Race to Save NASA. Then the publisher titled it Space Pirates, because their first read, they saw that as being something. But ultimately through, I think focus groups and things, they said, well, this is a more serious story than the Space Pirates title evokes. And I came up with escaping gravity, I think they had Breaking Boundaries or something... Yeah, no. And so I got to take another look, and as I'm not a writer, but the book is so important. Once it's out there it's going to remain out there.
Lori Garver: I was thrilled to have another whole take to go through it, and work in the escaping gravity metaphor. And so this was one of the things like, really meant a lot to me, is the gravity of our situation was as much my job escaping as the Earth's gravity. And then also the fact that escaping gravity in the early days, it was so difficult. It still is. But we'll only get there by having this aligned vision, and a consistent thing to overcome. And the reason we haven't escaped our political differences and so forth is because it's not a constant. It moves all the time. People are human and we aren't exactly the same each time, so the trappings of politics continue to be harder to escape.
Mat Kaplan: I got to give you, before we go back to... way back in your story, just one more example of the pressure you faced at the time. And it was congressional. This is a quote from, and it's in the book, from then Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, warning about the danger of the commercial crew initiative that you largely conceived and championed, with a largely resistant NASA. Here's the quote. "Congress must examine closely the very underpinnings of the proposed NASA budget request, which I believe if accepted and supported by the Congress in its present form, would spell the end of our nation's leadership in space exploration. That would certainly be the case in the area of human spaceflight capability," unquote. Lori, if it was your fiendish plot to destroy NASA and the United States leadership in space exploration, you could not have failed more completely.
Lori Garver: True enough. I think, as to my motivations about this, it was very hurtful having intended my whole career to help advance space development, to be charged with trying to kill it by a couple people. She was one of them, Senator Shelby another. That was so not my intent. The things that she and the other members were promoting, again, the incentives are for her to keep jobs that are in her district. That's fair enough. But we really had held back the space program by doing these cost plus contracts. So you could argue that shoe was on the other foot, but to close this circle, she shows up at Senator Nelson's confirmation hearing to be head of NASA, and she and the Senator, now Administrator Nelson, wrapped themselves in the commercial flag. They said they started it, it turns out.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, speaking of irony, we may come back to Administrator Nelson when we go through a few names here, because you name names, man, boy, you name a lot of names in this book. But I want to take you way back, first of all. You're not a scientist, you're not an engineer. We have that in common. But when did your fascination with space exploration begin?
Lori Garver: Well, one of the things that I just want to lay out for people is I did not grow up in the typical... I'm the right age to have been inspired by the Apollo program, and wanting to grow up being an astronaut. And maybe because they didn't look like me, I wasn't, but I wasn't. I grew up in a family where my grandfather and uncle were in the state representative as well as farmers. And so they were just doing public service to help their neighbors, and I felt that was my aspirational goal. My father was a stock broker, and I saw him, also think of this as the 1960s and '70s, getting excited about investing private capital in companies that were creating new miracle drugs and things. So I was really into democracy and capitalism. I majored in political science and economics, and I came to Washington to make a difference in people's lives.
Lori Garver: And the first way I found to do that was working for John Glenn, who was then running against President Reagan. This was Reagan's run for reelection in 1983 and 1984. I'd grown up Republican. That uncle, that grandfather were Republicans in Michigan, as were all my family. But I had gone on semester at sea in college, and this story isn't in the book. It was at one time, but got dropped. And we went to a lot of developing countries. I was in India and on a bus for instance, and a woman tried to hand me her baby, and this was known as something that happened with Western women. You're making eyes at the babies and they're so cute, and they want to offer you to hold them. They then would jump off the bus, knowing that, hoping that, their child would have a better future with you.
Lori Garver: Well, to me, this was profound. What kind of life would you have to be living that you would give up your baby in the hopes they'd have a better life? I learned on semester at sea, you study on the ship between countries, that Reagan was cutting back on foreign aid, that he was changing this from a program that helped poverty to a program that strategically fought communism or something. So really, my incentive to work for John Glenn wasn't that he had been to space. It was because in the polls in 1983, when I graduated from college, head to head polls, he's the only one who beat Reagan. And that didn't work out, but it goes to my interest. He then helped me, as I say in the book, get a job at the National Space Institute.
Lori Garver: It was an entry level job. I applied to be the receptionist/secretary/bookkeeper, and was thrilled to get that, be hired. From there, it really is, as I say, the people who raised me because I started learning what we were doing in space, and how what we were doing in space was helping society. So again, because I ended up with in a position where every other person before me had really come up, the usual engineering, wanting to be an astronaut, I took this different perspective. And what I like is I think space, that's the biggest thing it gives us, is a different perspective. And that's really important.
Mat Kaplan: National Space Institute would soon after merge with the L5 Society... and this is in the book... and of course became the National Space Society, still very active today. We met, you and I, over 30 years ago. I think by that time you were either running or about to begin running the National Space Society. It sounds like this was your first real adventure as a space pirate. There's that term again. Did it begin to solidify, your philosophy, that long ago?
Lori Garver: Oh yes. Yes. Really, and it didn't seem like there was much controversy about it, actually. Fairly early on, Dan Goldin, as the head of NASA, he came in '92 and the National Space Council when George Bush, the first George Bush became president, had the speech in '89 talking about sustaining a spacefaring civilization. I mean, it wasn't a shock that that wouldn't come just as a class plus contract for the government. I also, importantly, went to grad school. What became the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, I went to night school while working, and was at that time fomenting my own views and ideology, very much seeded by the L5 Society. Because this is The Planetary Society's radio program, I will note that I did get to know Lou Friedman at that time, the executive director, quite well. We were very, very close colleagues. We talked about mergers of the two organizations. For various reasons that didn't happen, but I did get to know The Planetary Society early on, and have really appreciated your grassroots outreach.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you. And of course, Lou Friedman, my first boss at the Society, the guy responsible for getting this show started nearly 20 years ago.
Lori Garver: He is someone who's a lot more responsible for good things in the space program than he's credited.
Mat Kaplan: I am flying through some things here, but Astromom, where did that come from? Got to tell a little bit about that story.
Lori Garver: Oh my, this is another, just chapter four, part of chapter four, called Risky Business. When I left NASA the first time, in 2001, I went to work for a wonderful consulting firm. At the time it was called DFI International. It is now the Avascent Group. I was consulting, so I had a client whose name is revealed in the book for the first time, Fisk Johnson. He is now the CEO of SC Johnson Wax. At the time he was not the CEO, his father was, and he had approached NASA about developing funding himself, a commercial experiment on the space station.
Lori Garver: So when I left NASA, he contacted me and said, "By the way, is there any way I could fly with that experiment and conduct it myself?" So knowing this was a Russian activity that was just starting, they were selling seats to tourists, I called my friend, Jeff Manber, who was the head of MirCorp, and they were at that time still marketing seats, I think to Mir. This was right around the time when that changed, when Mir was de-orbited. And so Dennis Tito became the first paying tourist to go to the space station.
Lori Garver: Negotiated a seat for my client, Fisk Johnson. He began to undergo the initial medical testing in Russia. I was there with him, right before 9/11. At the major disruption of those attacks, he was no longer able to spend the amount of time training that was required. This was for a flight in October of 2002. So I desperately tried to get someone to fill the seat, ultimately realized, okay, we did a branding study when I was at NASA in the policy office under Dan Goldin. And I knew that companies really loved to affiliate with the brand of NASA, but government people, mainly astronauts, are not able to do sponsorship.
Lori Garver: So I talked to the folks who did that branding study. They absolutely believed in the fact that this could be done, and I negotiated with my consulting firm. They supported this project. A seat for myself. We called the project Astromom. I started to get sponsors, lots more details about this in the book. And the punchline is Lance Bass from NSYNC showed up, and it's oversimplification to say he ruined my chances, because lots was going on there. And we did have some fun times in Russia that I describe in the book.
Mat Kaplan: It's a rollicking adventure, actually. And Lance comes off really well, I think. And [inaudible 00:25:54]-
Lori Garver: I've always appreciated that time, and he was sincere in his interest, and I'll bet you anything he goes to space sometime here.
Mat Kaplan: Hope so. I'd like to join him. So this is all part of that, what? 25 years that you mentioned? All of this leading up to your taking on more responsibility at NASA. But initially, well, there was stuff before this, again, we can't talk about everything. When you got picked up by the incoming Barack Obama administration to head the portion of the transition team that was dealing with space, that was dealing with NASA. Do I have that right?
Lori Garver: Yes, absolutely. I had been volunteering for Hillary for the previous year, having talked to them both initially and being more impressed by the depth of her interest in space. But the Obama people were very, very opening and welcoming. And that first conversation I had with him at all in depth was them reaching out to Hillary volunteers. And when I said... I was introduced first. It was one on one, but an array of people. It was, this is Lori Garver. She has been developing Hillary Clinton's space policy. He lit up because at the time their space policy had had some mis-starts. They had said they were going to cut NASA, put it into education.
Lori Garver: I had been a surrogate debater for Senator Clinton, candidate Clinton, opposed to the person who was advocating on behalf of the Obama campaign. And let's just say, those didn't go well for them. And clearly they had gotten back to Obama and they right away asked me to lead the transition team. Interestingly, that happens before the election in many cases, it doesn't always, I know for instance, Trump hadn't had his selected till later. But we were selected, I already had a clearance and I had recruited a team. So if he hadn't won, no one would've ever known that, because really you're only a transition team if your candidate is elected.
Mat Kaplan: So obviously president now, or President Elect Obama, was happy with your service on the transition team, because he clearly wanted you to continue in some kind of role at NASA. But there was this enormous controversy. Well, I don't know. As controversies go within Congress, maybe it wasn't that enormous, but it was very difficult to get an administrator on board. Didn't your friend Sally Ride, wasn't there an attempt to get her to take the job?
Lori Garver: Oh my gosh. Yes. As I say in the book, there were only two senators, I believe, and since it's Senate confirmed, they tend to be the people who you're going to listen to, who weighed in on the NASA administrator selection. One being Senator Nelson, we'll set that aside, the other being Senator Mikulski, and as I talked to her and her staff about what should be on NASA's agenda in this new incoming Obama administration, she said hey, it's not the responsibility of what they sort of refer to as landing teams. So you go into the agency. It's not our responsibility to do personnel, that's separate. And she wanted me to let them know for the NASA administrative position, no astronauts and no military people. Well, after we talked for another period of time about the other things she wanted to see at NASA, she came back and said, "Oh. No astronauts, except if it's Sally Ride."
Lori Garver: So I took that back, and the head of personnel at the time, Don Gibbs said, "Well, let's see if Sally Ride will do it." And I called her, I had gotten to know her. Joy of my life to have a professional relationship with her. And she did, as I say in the book, practically begged me not to have Obama call. She did not want to do it. She offered to help us in any other way possible, which she did help us a lot, but she just wasn't ready to make that commitment. And now there's lots of speculation as to why that is, but I don't know if she was already having her... She ultimately died of pancreatic cancer. Whether she already knew that, she was not open about that until the very end. And of course she also was not open about being bisexual. That, I can't imagine really at that point, certainly wouldn't have mattered to the Obama administration, but she was private about it.
Mat Kaplan: Just as a sidelight, I got to know Sally, I don't know if you know this, but she contributed a semi-regular feature to Planetary Radio for a while. She and Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner, her life partner. And I'll tell you, out of the something well over 1,000 people that I've talked to on this show, there is no one that I miss more than Sally. It still makes me very sad to think that we lost her way too soon.
Lori Garver: Yeah. It's pretty incredible that... I mean, she was so special, I feel the same way. And the fact that we had her for as long as we did is great, but we lost her way too soon.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Let me throw some names at you. As I said, you name a lot of names. I'll start with one that's already come up, Barack Obama. In terms of your impressions of him, it's not like you hung out with him all the time, but you did have some meetings, and you saw some of the challenges that a president faces as he tries to balance the world's heaviest workload.
Lori Garver: Absolutely. We really... It's impossible to imagine all they have to balance, and yet he did always give you a sense that he was in the moment with you, had done his research. I found him, of course, he's just a compelling individual, but I think his support of NASA and space was so genuine. He and I are the same age. We come to this with a lot of the same views about the value of public service, and he just wanted to do the best for NASA. He became president, and I think just I, for my own little role as compared to that, you just want to do the very best with it that you can. He didn't have an agenda more than that. And so early on, I was able in this first conversation to convey the value of investing in technology, and having the government really drive things, and turn over the routine, repeatable things to the private sector. And just as it did to me, that made a lot of sense to him.
Lori Garver: Honestly, it was not much more than that, but he, to me, every time I saw him and was able to talk with him, he really understood what we were going through. I say in the book quite clearly, out of all the administrations, all the presidents in my lifetime, there's no one, and I would include Kennedy in that, that I would've rather worked for. Yet I find and found there were things I wished they would have done differently. I think he selected a wonderful... The program that gave NASA the most chance to succeed. Yet politically, he didn't really put in the support that we needed to get it all through, and that's the same with personnel.
Lori Garver: The next story I'll just jump to is that because Senator Nelson pushed back on his first, or a couple of NASA administrator selections, he could have gone ahead and put those people through the system, but he agreed to do what Senator Nelson wanted. And ultimately we had Charlie Bolden nominated, and the president and Charlie, I think had a wonderful relationship. Charlie's been very open in interviews recently that he says he became the most hated person in the administration because he didn't get on board with commercial crew. I don't really think that he was hated, but they certainly were frustrated by the fact that the person they brought in wasn't supportive of their number one priority.
Mat Kaplan: But it does seem across the book that you always looked to what the administration clearly wanted, which frequently was not what the administrator wanted, or what a lot of very powerful people in NASA wanted. There was a real struggle there. Obviously that was the next person I was going to ask you about. I mean here Barbara Mikulski, she said nobody from the military and no astronauts. So you got a retired military guy who had commanded the space shuttle. I met him, really nice man. Very affable. Had good things to say about you, by the way, the last time we talked. But clearly as you've just said, not always in step with what his bosses in the administration wanted to see happen. And much of that maybe because he was surrounded by people who were telling him what they wanted him to hear. Who were the cup boys?
Lori Garver: I have referred to a certain type of person as cup boys in the book, sort of like space pirates. You can't keep replaying a long description, so you give them this little moniker. But cup boys was given to me by my friend Dee Lee, who ran procurement at NASA in the '90s. So we both worked for Dan Goldin, and he himself was not a cup boy, but he had surrounded himself with them, and these tended to be retired, military men. And the reference is to their coffee mugs, with their call-in signs on them. So the deputy's was Zorro, the chief of staff was Mini, head of the space station was Dragon. And it just speaks to this sort of exclusionary nature of the culture for women, but not just women, and anyone really who had a different idea.
Lori Garver: I think Charlie, I thought, was more open to some of the ideas that I was espousing. We had early conversations about it. He had not stated opposition to either the transition team's recommendations, or to the Augustine Report, which had clearly given at least an option to do things to replace the low Earth orbit transportation of astronauts with a commercial program. But when it came down to requesting the budget, he did not push back when the leaders at NASA, the career leaders at NASA, put forward the same old programs. And even when we very clearly tried to get him and others like Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of space flight, the ideas that we had for developing a commercial proof program, I think this is a major flashpoint for NASA. They don't really like to feel they work for the president. Somehow it's like we're above government. I used to hear a lot of times, "We need government out of this."
Lori Garver: Well that is so ironic given that I'm the one pushing for commercial things. I mean, if you're getting your money from the taxpayer, again, as a political scientist, that's how it works. We used to say the, CFO and I, they have a different reading of the constitution than I do. There were even efforts though, to get NASA to be somehow the leadership not appointed by the president. Have you be more like the FBI because they don't want to politicize NASA. This I'm looking forward to talking to Casey about. I grew up, politicizing wasn't as much of a dirty word as it is now. It's how we in a democracy have decided to make these decisions related to government's role.
Lori Garver: So it was a challenge, because I didn't really know where Charlie stood, but I don't know if that was being passive aggressive, or whether he just was run over by the cup boys. Still don't know. He's said things in quotes, yes, positive. "Hey, Lori helped me finally see the light on commercial programs." But he also has said less positive things. I don't want this to be about the two of us, and I really feel like the point is I had a different background, and that allowed me to step back and see that we needed to change the system. And he was part of the system, so that's harder.
Mat Kaplan: I'll be right back with more from Lori Garver. This is Planetary Radio.
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Mat Kaplan: The cup boys had a lot of very powerful forces behind them. I mean, you refer many times in the book to the vast and powerful traditional aerospace industry, and importantly, its congressional supporters. You call them, "The self licking ice cream cone," and you got to explain that.
Lori Garver: Yeah. And of course it's not mine. I think I'm quoting Dan Goldin with it, but I'm aware that Dan Goldin didn't create it either. I think we track its pedagogy to Pete Warden, an air force general who's been a long time space pirate. But the self licking ice cream cone is basically the self feeding system that okay, I've got a contract in your district, I have jobs I want to keep, you're my member of Congress. You're my NASA bureaucracy that wants to keep doing what you're doing. And we're all just going to ask for money to do the same thing. Instead of saying, "We're trying to accomplish X. The best way to do that is how we should be establishing this program." It is not unique to NASA, and I think what we really need to do, and my takeaway from the book, is commercial crew is a really good example of how you can make positive change in government. How you can break this self feeding cycle.
Lori Garver: And there are a number of things, when you just keep your focus on the end state. And that's another Dan Goldin trait, very strategic thinker. And NASA tends to be filled with process thinkers. Understandably, you can't get off the planet without following very specific processes for launching rockets, and having successful spacecraft. But one chapter's named It's Not Just Rocket Science, because political science, as long as we're spending the public's money, is something that we have to follow as well. And breaking that cycle is what we were able to do with both commercial cargo and crew, to allow the private sector to innovate lower costs, bring in new markets, help our economy, our national security, and now open up space to more people and activities.
Mat Kaplan: I promise to come back to commercial crew, commercial cargo, but I want to follow up on that paradigm, which it existed for so many decades, that cost plus paradigm. That resulted initially in the Constellation Program, which when you came in, the Obama administration came in, you were able to end that. A lot of people blame you for that, but I think you make a very clear case that no, that's not really how it worked, though you may have seen the folly of it. And yet here we are, SLS still struggling along. Let's hope that that launch of Artemis One takes place within 2022. Basically it came back. Could there be more powerful evidence that those very powerful forces are still very much in place?
Lori Garver: There could not be any more powerful evidence. I would gladly take the credit for canceling Constellation, except that it wasn't canceled successfully. So I actually take some of the blame for that too, because I don't think I was successful fully in getting Charlie and the cup boys to understand that a future could be better by doing things differently. And I haven't heard them talk about it yet, and this isn't the right time here, right before we have SLS's hopefully first launch, but they probably, knowing what they do now, wouldn't have done it either.
Lori Garver: I can't imagine that if you had said, "Instead of being launched by 2016 it'll be launched by the end of '22, and it would instead of 10 billion cost 20, and Orion similar multiples of billions, I actually felt it would happen before now, or less than now, but still knew it wasn't going to meet the objective. And I remember the day the gentleman from Boeing stood in my office, it was Brewster Shaw, former astronaut, and now Boeing executive. And he said they could do SLS for $6 billion in five years, and I... That was my reaction, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Oh my. Oh my.
Lori Garver: That was my reaction. Guess what? He did not like that reaction.
Mat Kaplan: No.
Lori Garver: At all. He had a bad back then, so he was standing. Well, I wasn't going to have him lord over me, so I was standing. It's one of those moments you can remember where you were, what you were wearing, because I was standing up to a really powerful, heroic person, but I knew he was lying. There was just no question in my mind, and he swore he was not. Okay. Did he believe it? Maybe, but it's a smart person. So many people then believed him and his troika of companies. I think they called themselves the Three Amigos. Told this to the plan B team that was headed by Mike Coates, the head of the Johnson Space Center, supposedly at the direction of Charlie, not exactly clear how much he directed it himself. And then working with this delegation of senators who had jobs in their districts.
Lori Garver: That recreated Constellation into SLS, making sure the legislation did all but force us to use existing contracts. And that solidified, I think, this state we're in today, where there's been a lack of progress in the deep space exploration programs that took money from commercial crew, which I think made us have to pay the Russians longer. There are many unhealthy fallouts from this decision, and I watched it all. I describe it in detail. And I think I said in one of these interviews, had SLS launched on time for the amount they said, there wouldn't have been a book.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Yeah.
Lori Garver: I'd like to think I would've said, "Hey, I was wrong. Good on you." I think I would've, frankly, but I was pretty aware, even as a non-technical person, just with reading of history, we hadn't been able to do human space flight in any way since Apollo, that was less than hundreds of billions of dollars with a cost plus contract. Shuttle and station are the only human space side programs we've had since Apollo. And we haven't done new things because operating costs, those are so large that the incentive to keep them operating by the people making that money, overrides developing something new, which is thus how we got to really needing to crack that system in order to start something new.
Mat Kaplan: I will just mention by way of a tease for the book that because the book is... You were writing it right up until essentially the beginning of this year, 2022, that you managed to get in there another story, a little bit of a cost plus, well, at least overspending story, about the current development of a bus to get the astronauts the few miles out to the launchpad. Great story that we don't have time to tell, because besides, I want to get to the happier portion of this story.
Lori Garver: Excellent. Excellent.
Mat Kaplan: The triumph portion of this story. To begin that, I want to take you back to the '80s again, specifically maybe 1985. I got to know this company, American Rocket Company, or Amroc way back then. It was led by a guy named George Koopman. Do you ever wonder what might have been accomplished long before Musk and Bezos got into the space transportation business if Koopman hadn't tragically died in an automobile crash?
Lori Garver: It was important to me to get that story in, because I do wonder that, and that chapter, Rise of the Rocketeers starts not with Elon, Jeff, or Richard, but with George Koopman and others, who at that time in the '80s were trying to do the same thing, reduce the cost of space transportation. Again, this is why I was so committed to seeing it through. Because I was not alone, and much smarter people than me had risked much more than me to make this happen. He did tragically die in a car accident, and perhaps if he had lived, Amroc would have persevered.
Lori Garver: Their first launch didn't end successfully, but it did prove out some things, and had he been able to keep investors that could have been different. A lot of things like that could have happened through the years. And it's one of the reasons right now people say, "Well, isn't it just SpaceX?" Well, I still believe, 100% props to SpaceX, we would not be where we are without them, but lots of people have tried. And I always knew this was the way to bring those people along who would ultimately succeed. These were breadcrumbs, as I say, the policy just had to lead people who had already had these views, and were a lot smarter than me.
Mat Kaplan: So let's turn to the guys who are much, much more, much, much better known now, Elon, Jeff. You may have known them by their first names. You may know them by their first names. I don't, they-
Lori Garver: Don't we all, though? Don't we all, though?
Mat Kaplan: I suppose we do on some level and I'll throw in some others, George Whitesides, who you work so closely with at NASA, another mutual friend. Gwynne Shotwell, who maybe is to a large degree, the power behind the scenes at SpaceX, making so much of their success happen. I'll stick with Elon and Jeff for a moment. You worked with both of them, you I think continued... Well, I don't know if you've had that much contact lately. But give me your impressions, because you do share them in the book.
Lori Garver: Of course I share them in the book. The publishers wanted every story I ever had about them in the book. So no, I have not been in touch with either of them for a few years. Jeff most recently right before COVID in 2019, but Elon only on Twitter and the last time was a dust up. So I will say that I find them both, as I describe in the book, it's very hard for any of us to relate to someone who can, or even wants to amass hundreds of billions of dollars. I think a theme in the book being you're smart in one area doesn't mean that translates to all parts of your life. Namely, that these are astronaut heroes who are amazing at being astronauts, but maybe running a large government agency isn't in your wheelhouse. Those are the kinds of things I would say certainly today, hard to be putting out a book when we are in the midst of Elon making some very controversial statements, at least, if not actions.
Lori Garver: So I think what SpaceX has been able to accomplish, you cannot take from them. You can't really take it from him either. Although I agree, Gwynne is a very strong, positive force in that organization. The vision of the two is clearly providing a lot of the fuel for these advances. I have a couple of kids, one of whom, especially just has a very hard time as a supporter of Bernie Sanders, believing I even think it's okay to have written something positive about these people. But you just, for our industry, you cannot really overstate especially SpaceX's advancements. And he is a person. As I put in the book, my conversations have always been very frank with him. Similar to Jeff, we always talked about space. I don't think we ever talked about much else. The one other time that we did was when Elon met my son, and my son had graduated from college that week, he was introduced as such. And being a music major, music composition major, Elon says to him, "Oh, that's going to be automated in the future."
Lori Garver: True Elon. And I'm as a mother about ready to pounce, but my son went toe to toe with him, coming back with different things about having imperfections that people write in, and Elon says, "No, no, that'll all be automated. That can be done by AI." Finally, Wes pulls out this, I don't know what, a Dylan song. We didn't know Bob Dylan wrote it. And this is forever known in our house as the time our 21 year old talked down Elon Musk. Because Elon agreed, "Oh, I guess I hadn't thought of that." I say this because it's positive for both of them. It's not just for my son, but Elon was willing to listen and change his mind with more data. I'd like to think there will be more of that in his future.
Mat Kaplan: This is just one of several anecdotes that you tell about these guys, about Richard Branson, fascinating. And Casey Dreyer and I have had several conversations, in I guess we could say it's an attempt to de-demonize them, at least ignoring the other facets of their lives, but what they are accomplishing in space. How important to the success of commercial crew were the successes of SpaceX's Falcon One and Falcon Nine?
Lori Garver: They were entirely due to those successes. Falcon One of course took a while. We've heard this story a lot, so I try to keep my part of it short in the book. But Elon says that last flight, if it hadn't been successful, they would've gone out of business. Guess I'll just disagree with the imposing icon now, because NASA was about to award the commercial cargo program, and they won big. So probably they would have put that back together. Who knows though? Because people would've dispersed. We're sure glad it succeeded. It was absolutely critical to the success of the policy.
Lori Garver: And what I say in the book is I don't think people have really internalized enough. All of these early Falcon Nine successes were at the time we were arguing about this policy. So I say them being successful wasn't definitive, but had they not been, it probably would have. If they would've failed in one of those, I'm not sure I could have stood up against that pushback, and the people who wanted to not go down this path would've used that. See? It's never going to be reliable. So it was critical, and of course now we're flying our cargo and crew on these rockets.
Mat Kaplan: So we go back to that quote I used at the very beginning from Kay Bailey Hutchison, and she was just one of those who was really out for blood. Very possibly a lot of them coming from a good place, because this was a model that simply hadn't been used by NASA before. Were there times when you wondered if you would be successful in pulling this off? I mean, it was a real struggle early on.
Lori Garver: Yeah. I'm not sure that I would've kept going if I questioned whether it would be successful, but that's whether it would be successful if we got the policy through. There were definitely times when I thought we might not be successful getting the policy through. But I was willing to take it to the mattresses and did in some regards. But again, being the deputy made it hard. And this one meeting I describe in the book, when the administration came in to her offices, Senator Nelson was there, and our delegation was led by Jack Lou, who at the time was the head of OMB. And we were berated for proposing this program that just was going to ruin human space flight. And this is where we made the agreement to go ahead with SLS. I've never had a worse hour, I think. I so wanted to tell them what they were doing, and how clear it was that what they were doing was going to lead to slower advancements than what we had proposed.
Lori Garver: And watching people like Jack Lou, and Charlie was there, and we really just folded. It made me crazy, because my story in the book is they had a pair of twos, and we had a royal flush, and we walked away from the table. I knew this was the way to go. And sadly, I had to watch us pour money into these other programs. So here we are full circle, awaiting an SLS launch after so much time and so much money. I know that thousands of people have worked on this. And I hate that my book is coming out at a time when they're going to think, oh, I'm out to get them, because it's precisely because I care about them so much that I didn't want to set up a program that wasn't sustainable. So how many times will it launch, what will happen, is all yet chapters unwritten, but experiencing it myself was very, very challenging, because I was very clear in my mind how this was going to go.
Mat Kaplan: OMB of course, Office of Management and Budget that serves the administration.
Lori Garver: Can I just put a plug for OMB? They drove this. The Office of Management and Budget, who was vilified by most space people, they were early adopters. They were the ones who put money in the budget to do commercial cargo. Mike Griffin ignored that initially until they lost a protest by SpaceX, or almost did. GAO said, "You're going to lose, so create the cargo program." This really, I just, one of the things to do is show some heroes that don't always get to be called heroes, and OMB are some of the smartest people. These are the career people who set the budgets. In my view, yes, they have an agenda. You know what their agenda is? Getting the best value for the taxpayer. And they all want a great space program.
Mat Kaplan: We could go on so much further. I would love to talk about the allies that you found, even within NASA, during this very difficult time. I will just say that people should read the book. I come back to George Whitesides, our mutual friend who was out of NASA by this time but provided, if nothing else, moral support. Gave you some encouragement, right?
Lori Garver: Yes. George was the first person I selected for the transition team, and I really didn't know him well. One of the things about me is I'm a collaborator. I'm always aware I only know so much about a few things, and he had come highly recommended, just served so well on the transition team, managed to get him to be able to stay at NASA when I had to leave, in order to be nominated as deputy, and was able to make sure he got the role of chief of staff. But a year into it, he really was having to keep telling Richard Branson, "No, I'm not going to come work for you as CEO." And I didn't tell all those stories because when George came to me and told me he had that job, he basically said, "If you still need me here, I won't do it." Like really George, that is just not who I am. And he and his wife Loretta hadn't started their family yet. And I said, "You need to live your life."
Lori Garver: Well, the story that is in the book, you recall, is I called him during these very dark days when we had folded on SLS and just said, "What do I do? How can I help? I've told the administration I will sell this as a win. And the space community, the space pirates, I feel I've let down." And he said to me, "Lori, if you're asking, they'll do it for you." And that makes me emotional just to think about. The kicker to that being, I found out seconds later when I heard a little rustling that he was in the hospital with Loretta just a few hours after the birth of his son and baby George. And he and Loretta are sitting there as I'm whining about, "Oh, we made a deal that I don't like." That's just the kind of stand up person George is. He answered the phone. He just gave me his advice. And he didn't... I hope, I haven't talked to Loretta about this story... I'm sure he was equally attentive to his project at hand, namely his newborn and his wife.
Mat Kaplan: I'm sure he was. I told George not long ago that he and people like him, and you're part of this group, you accomplished the goal. There's no turning back. There's no way to put the commercial space genie back in the bottle now. And so I thank you.
Lori Garver: Well, it really was an honor, a true honor, growing up like I did, wanting to do public service. I couldn't have imagined having this opportunity. And it was, for the most part, a pleasure as well. Fun to write the book, fun to talk to you about it. Thank you so much.
Mat Kaplan: You have lately put a lot of yourself into creating other programs, that are helping to make NASA and all of aerospace more diverse. You're really empowering groups that have traditionally been put in the back seat, if not left on the side of the road. Are there benefits to this beyond just the simple justice that it represents?
Lori Garver: Oh my goodness. The Brooke Owens fellowship, the Patty Grace Smith Fellowship, the Matt Isakowitz Fellowship that you're referring to, providing these paid internships, mentorship to collegiate people, women, gender minorities, and black students, have been really about not just bringing along folks who had been, I think, less represented in our community, but also helping the community. The fact that it's coming at a time when there are more and more opportunities, again, this whole metaphor of the perspective of space showing that we're in this together, it's very meaningful to me.
Lori Garver: And having a role like I did, even though I was just deputy administrator, one of the things is people do, they see me as a role model. And why wouldn't you take advantage of that, and try to do more? I have years ahead of me, I hope, and I really know that while I was able to accomplish some things in that position with the help of thousands of others, the biggest value I will ever have left society are these young people who now feel empowered. They have relationships in the industry, they have jobs, and the community is better for it.
Mat Kaplan: Lori, your legacy is much better than that, and much bigger than that, I assure you. Do you have advice? I mean, in a sense much of this book could be considered advice for budding space pirates, but maybe not just space pirates. Maybe other people who want to buck the system where there are entrenched bureaucracies. I mean, I'm thinking of healthcare, and climate change, and that's a list that could go on and on and on. I mean, what do you say to them?
Lori Garver: As I think we talked about earlier, playing a role in something that is larger than yourself, and that is important, is very empowering. Find that for yourself. All of us have different things, but if you yourself feel that way, it gives you energy. It gives you passion. It brings joy to your life. I also have a husband of 36 years, a couple of grown children, and they recognized that when I wasn't there, it was because I was working on something else really important for your life that's very, very helpful, and allows you to take on things that maybe you wouldn't have the energy to do otherwise.
Lori Garver: I don't feel it has to be in space. For me right now, I think the unique aspect of our view of Earth from space, it's most important right now that we can understand how to help people survive and thrive here on Earth, and space offers solutions to that. I think that should be prioritized. Many of the people coming in through these fellowships, anyone growing up, I see the next generations wanting to make their mark, and there are many ways to do that. They don't have to be in space, that's the whole point, right? Diversity is critical for us in nature, just as it is for thought. Any kind of teamwork, any kind of organization, you are strengthened by variation. That to me means you have something to contribute.
Mat Kaplan: So we've been talking for over an hour now, we can see each other. Every now and then, I see a little flash of the smartwatch on your wrist. Was that our beautiful pale blue dot that it shows?
Lori Garver: Of course. What else would we have? I mean, there's a moon one too, but it's just gray and...
Mat Kaplan: Thank you, Lori. Thank you very much.
Lori Garver: Thank you, Mat. It was wonderful to talk to you.
Mat Kaplan: Lori Garver's new book is Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age, and she has, with some help from a lot of other good space pirates. And it's available now, and if you stick around, you'll have a chance to win it. It's time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. Here's that chief scientist of The Planetary Society. We are joined yet again by Bruce Betts. Welcome back.
Bruce Betts: Thank you, Mat. Good to be back. Nice to see you.
Mat Kaplan: We got nice comments from a number of listeners about that wonderful alignment in the sky.
Bruce Betts: Oh good.
Mat Kaplan: That you told us so much about. Candace Miller, "I saw the planet alignment this morning from Garden City Beach, in South Carolina. It was so amazing!" Laura Dodd, Northern California. "Happy Midsummer. When the pre-one sky is clear up here on Humboldt Bay, I enjoy a peak at the string of planets. Thanks for the What's Up heads up, Bruce."
Bruce Betts: Hey, you're welcome. Keep looking up. Secure impersonations of the astronomical pass. That lineup is still there. Although Mercury... Mercury's pretty dicey. Mercury's dropping lower in the... We're talking pre-dawn east. If you have a reasonably clear view to the eastern horizon, you should see super bright Venus, and above that reddish Mars, above that bright Jupiter, and above that yellow Saturn. And they're just going to keep spreading out across the sky. Venus will stick low, and the others will move across the sky over time. But you can just go from one to the next, and collect them all. For the evening sky, because I've just felt like it's so left out recently, all month you can see the bright reddish star Antares, the red super giant within the consolation Scorpius in the south in the evening.
Bruce Betts: On July 10th, the moon will be nearby. It's groovy looking. If you're one of our southern hemisphere listeners, you can still see it, but you'll be looking high in the east. It'll be really high overhead, Scorpius and Antares getting higher as the evening goes along. We move on to this week in space history. It was this week in 1979, two significant things happened. Voyager II flew past Jupiter, and returned lots of groovy data, and Skylab fell from the sky. Skylab reentered the Earth's atmosphere, creating a craze as we've discussed before on this show, but it did not... It splattered across part of Australia. And in 2011, it's already somehow been 11 years since the last space shuttle launch STS 135.
Mat Kaplan: I don't know how this happens. How does this happen, Bruce? You're the chief scientist. I mean, it just seems like maybe two, at most three years ago that I was there for the penultimate, the next to last shuttle launch, which I ended up not seeing because it got delayed.
Bruce Betts: We move on to Random Space. We're going to talk about country flags, of course, I'm sure that's why you tune into this show. On Brazil's flag, each of the 27 stars on the flag actually represents a specific Brazilian state or federal district, but each of them also represents a specific star in the sky. The stars are of different sizes, and are arranged to correspond to constellations visible in the southern hemisphere. Here's a weird one, they are mirror flipped compared to what you would see on Earth, at least the full constellations like the Southern Cross, because it's imagined as old timey philosophy that all the stars are on a sphere. What if you were outside that sphere looking down at Rio de Janeiro on the date of Brazilian independence, November 15th, 1889.
Mat Kaplan: That is just marvelous. I absolutely love that. I didn't know any of that stuff.
Bruce Betts: We will come back to that, just to tease you. We move on to the trivia contest, and I asked you how many torque rods, also known as magnetorquers, does LightSail 2 have? How'd we do, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: Got a big response this time, we have completely bounced back from the early summer doldrums, and got some very entertaining stuff as well. Here's the response we got from Jerry Robinette in Ohio. Jerry, I'm sorry, you're not the winner, but hey, this is a pretty good consolation prize. You get mentioned up front. LightSail 2 has three torque rods, although I prefer magnetorquers, because why settle for two syllables when you can get the same word done with five? I'm no magneto torque engineer, but I believe that is one for each axis.
Bruce Betts: That is correct. There are three of these torque rods, which are basically electromagnets, and they're oriented to produce magnetic fields in three perpendicular, or as they reinvent the word perpendicular later in math, and three orthogonal axes, which just means the same thing, that's used so that the system with the right software behind it can work those magnetic fields against the Earth's magnetic field, which you also need to know where you are. So which direction of the field, so you can take things like spin out of the sail that you don't want.
Mat Kaplan: Nice explanation there. I am going to get to the winner, I promise, but a few other comments from listeners first. Steve Sheridan in California, "Magnetorquer sounds like it could be the name of a device Scotty would use in Star Trek. Something like, 'Ensign, hand me that magnetorquer so I can reduce the flux of the warp core.'" How'd I do? Your Scottish accents better than mine.
Bruce Betts: That was fine. I'm sure Scotty would be proud.
Mat Kaplan: Ed Alschaeffer in Virginia lives fairly close to Washington DC. He says, and this is before it happened of course, "My wife and I are going to the LightSail 2 celebration at the Smithsonian on June 25th. Looking forward to it." Hey Ed and your wife, I hope you had a great time there. It looked like it was a really a nice gathering.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, it was great, with people able to visit our display of our one quarter scale LightSail with deployed sails, as well as our engineering model. And that's in the future's exhibit at the arts and industries building for anyone showing up really soon. They're about to take it down. So check on the future's exhibit timing if you're going there.
Mat Kaplan: And I was very glad that I made it there in time with my wife to get a look at it. It's a great exhibit. Anyway, go for the LightSail, stay for the everything else. Daniel Huckabee in Nevada, "I joined the society shortly after the launch of LightSail 2. What an amazing spacecraft, always a good conversation starter. Sail on." Joe Caliputray in New Jersey, one of our regulars. "In my search, I found that Amazon has something called LightSail. So maybe you can price some money out of Mr. Bezos' rocket budget for LightSail 3, journey to Alpha Centauri." Do you know about this? I looked it up. He's right. There is a product related to Amazon's-
Bruce Betts: I'm very aware of it.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah?
Bruce Betts: No, I've got the Google alerts. So I know when there are press reports that talk about, use the word LightSail. And that just went to a lot more alerts when Amazon decided to call part of their AWS system LightSail. But yeah, that's a great idea except for the, I don't think we're quite ready to jump to Alpha Centauri. In fact, I guarantee we're not.
Mat Kaplan: I should add that Joe also gave the alternative of visiting some as-yet unvisited asteroid.
Bruce Betts: Okay. That works better. Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Much more reasonable. Hey, here's that winner that I promised. He's only won once before, and this is what's unique, that last win was 10 years ago as far as I can tell.
Bruce Betts: Yikes.
Mat Kaplan: Ben, Ben Owens, thanks for hanging in there from Australia. We congratulate you. And here's what Ben had to say. "We are giving away that great book by who's this? Bruce Betts, by Bruce Betts, The Solar System Reference for Teens.
Bruce Betts: Wait, that's me.
Mat Kaplan: Sorry. That is I.
Mat Kaplan: Ben, who I guess is not a teenager anymore, although we have assured people and I can attest to this, that the book is for much more than teens, he said, "Hey, oh Mat, should the planets align, get it, for me and I win, pick a worthy school and donate the book to their library. Cheers."
Bruce Betts: Oh, that's nice.
Mat Kaplan: Well talk about great timing. I mean, this is absolutely cosmic. We got an entry from Rebecca Dobreen in Texas. Here's her message. "Hello, Mat and Dr. Betts. I am a new science teacher for fourth grade and have been listening for a while, but have never entered and only recently became a member." Thank you, Rebecca. "I would love a copy of this for my classroom. Keep up the good content." My goodness.
Bruce Betts: It is destiny.
Mat Kaplan: I know it's just a match made in heaven. So hey Rebecca, we're going to send you the book with Ben's compliments, and Ben, compliments to you as well. Isn't that great?
Bruce Betts: That is great.
Mat Kaplan: By the way, Robert Klain in Arizona, in considering your book, he says, "Ooh, look at the big brain on Bruce. Doctor published author. Dude, you totally rock."
Bruce Betts: I like that. I am doctor, published author.
Mat Kaplan: And finally this from our Poet Laureate, Day Fairchild in Kansas. "In space, you will need to have torquers to work on your sail control, a trio for each body access to handle the yaw, pitch and roll. They work with the magic of magnets, their quality you can deduce, because they're controlled by the master. The chief scientist known as Bruce." I knew you'd like that. I love it. I love it. Thank you.
Bruce Betts: Of course, it ended in Bruce. Of course I loved it. I'm shameless. Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: All right. We're ready for another.
Bruce Betts: Well back to flags, of course, and Brazil's flag. One star of the 27 stars is shown above a white band, the white band crossing the center of the flag. What star, and what Brazilian state, does it represent? What star in the sky and what Brazilian state does the one star above the white band represent? Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: You have until the 13th, that would be July 13th. Wednesday, July 13th at 8:00 AM Pacific time. And somebody is going to win Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age by our guest today, of course, Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA. Get those entries in. We're done.
Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Go out there, look up the night sky, and think if you were going to make a flag for your house, what would be on that flag? Stars, kangaroos, squid? Thank you, and good night.
Mat Kaplan: I would put on that flag my dog, Dennis.
Bruce Betts: Oh, nice.
Mat Kaplan: He would look so good on a flag with his little floppy ear. He's just the cutest little guy, and I would proudly salute that flag, as I salute the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, that's Dr. Betts.
Bruce Betts: Hail Dennis.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its stubbornly visionary members. See what they've seen at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad Astra.