Saturday’s luncheon at the National Space Society’s (NSS) International Space and Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago was something of a homecoming for its speaker, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, who was executive director of the organization for a number of years. “I grew up in NSS,” she said. “Perhaps no other speaking engagement so far has really seemed like coming home.”
Her speech, though, was not designed to reminisce about the good old days of the NSS, but instead lay out the administration’s plans for NASA and seek support from, and action by, the audience of space advocates, to the point of offering to make available the slides from her presentation on the NSS web site (which have not been posted as of Sunday) to aid in outreach efforts. She argued that it’s particularly important to reach out beyond the space community to the broader public. “We have to connect to a public that doesn’t understand how NASA is helping them.”
Part of that effort, it would seem, is to make the case of how NASA fits into the bigger picture. “We really need, during times when our government is clearly going to have to focus on those things that help develop the economy, to be a part of the national agenda,” she said. Later, she said, “We need to address actual things we can contribute to the nation and the world.” That led to a discussion of “potential grand challenges”: projects that NASA would lead or be a part of that would provide that value to larger audiences. Some of the ideas are very space-specific, such as looking for life beyond Earth and making space access economical; others appeared to leverage NASA technologies or capabilities, like “carbon-netural mobility”.
She acknowledged, though, that there are skeptics about the plan at ISDC, and part of her speech made the case that the agency’s proposed new plan was surperior to continuing on the program of record. “People have made a lot of rhetorical statements that this plan kills human spaceflight; in fact, it does the opposite,” she said, citing problems with cost and schedule of Constellation.
She later added that even though the new plan does not explicitly include a lunar landing, “we are not giving up on the Moon.” She said under the program of record we weren’t going to the Moon in the foreseeable future anyway because of those cost and schedule issues, and that the plans for lunar return that did exist were regressing to “flags and footprints” missions rather than something sustainable. The capabilities that would be developed in the new plan “will allow us to go back to the Moon and stay much earlier than the program of record.”
However, she noted that it’s been a difficult battle so far winning over those skeptics. “Change is hard,” she said. “This is a paradigm shift. We know it’s not popular now because you can’t make these artificial claims we can get you somewhere we cannot.” And, she added, “It doesn’t take much to recognize that we’re not getting out message out well.”
“The space community should hopefully see that this our time,” she said near the end of her talk. “The President of the United States has taken a stand—very difficult and maybe not immediately politically beneficial—on the importance of expanding the human presence into space.” At the end of her speech Garver got a standing ovation from the ISDC luncheon audience, although it remains to be seen if they were simply saluting one of their own or were inspired to to take up the call to advocate for the new NASA plan.