For SLS and Orion, 2016 Election Could Be a Bad Moon Rising

Bad Moon Rising Credit: NASA

Bad Moon Rising
Credit: NASA

As the Democratic and Republican parties close in on the selection of their respective nominees for the US 2016 Presidential election, former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is the name most frequently cited as a leading candidate to head America’s space agency if Hillary Clinton wins the election. A champion of the COTS and Commercial Crew programs, Garver shared her opinions regarding SLS and Orion with NPR shortly after leaving her post:

“The SLS. It was something that Congress dictated to NASA, it had to do with the Orion spacecraft. It is a holdover from Constellation, which the Obama administration tried to cancel, and it’s $3 billion a year of NASA’s $17 billion. Is that how you would be investing in the space program? Where is it going to go? When will it even fly?”

Listening to her speak at the 2015 National Space Society Convention in Toronto, it was clear that her positions were if anything, even stronger in the wake of SpaceX and other NewSpace accomplishments to that point. Two successful Falcon 9 landings and three Blue Origin flights later, they are not likely to have weakened.

(As an aside, it was fascinating to note that the words “SLS” and “Orion” virtually never came up during the entire event, and when they did, it was not positive.)

Now, in this Space News Op/Ed, Garver reflects on her role in the leading the 2008 transition team for President elect Obama, and the defensive attitude taken by then NASA Administrator Michael Griffin when it came time to review Project Constellation.

“Unfortunately, the 2008 transition would be different. Despite the chilly reception on the 9th floor, we kept shoulder to the wheel gathering information and writing our reports. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released two months before the 2008 election highlighted the shuttle-to-Constellation transition as a top challenge, so we were asked to focus on human spaceflight specifically. This was made more difficult when the Constellation team was the only program unwilling to share detailed information. The Ares launch vehicle team came up from Huntsville and brought a slickly produced video to describe their program. The Orion team from Houston was only slightly more informative. I had sought the counsel of Sally Ride, who led Bill Clinton’s NASA transition in 1992, and she mentioned that the Aerospace Corp. was working on an analysis of the Ares program and she helped arrange for us to get a briefing from them. After a 20-minutes introductory briefing on the Aerospace Corp., our briefers concluded without sharing any details from their Ares study. Our detailed questions were met with nervousness and little eye contact. We later learned that NASA leadership had heard about our planned meeting and preemptively told them not to share the Ares results with us.

Why is any of this relevant now? Well, there will be a transition team at NASA seven months from now. Their charge will be to learn everything they can about key NASA programs to advise the incoming president and her or his new leadership team. Any innovative organization should relish the chance for a fresh look with fresh eyes — the transition should be viewed as an opportunity, not a challenge. NASA can only benefit from working openly with this team – no matter which candidate wins come November. Political transitions are part of our great democratic history and should be embraced – not feared.”

If Donald Trump happens to win the election, no one knows what direction major NASA programs may take, including most likely, Donald Trump himself. If Hillary wins however, and Garver does indeed get the nod, SLS and Orion are in big, big trouble.


Posted in: SLS / Orion

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2 Comments on "For SLS and Orion, 2016 Election Could Be a Bad Moon Rising"

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  1. PK Sink says:

    “If Hillary wins however, and Garver does indeed get the nod, SLS and Orion are in big, big trouble.”

    If only that were so…As Obama found out, this program is impervious to anything that any president can do at this time. Dragon landing on Mars in a couple of years may have some effect.

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