Friday marked the last day on the job for NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, who announced a month ago she was leaving the agency to take a job in the private sector. At a reception Thursday evening at NASA Headquarters, she reflected on the four-plus years in that role, NASA Watch reported, from the clashes she had with then-administrator Mike Griffin when she was part of the administration’s transition team after the 2008 election to being perceived as pushing for change at NASA for the sake of change itself. “You can’t choose the time you asked to serve,” she noted in a top-ten list of things she learned during her time in the job. “It was not easy to serve at a time when the shuttle was being shut down and large programs were being cancelled.”
Garver made bigger news, though, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, where she said she believed the first launches of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and Orion spacecraft, slated for 2017 and 2021, would likely slip by a year or two each because of insufficient funding. “It’s very clear that we could have slips of a year or two,” she told the Sentinel.
That assessment, she said, comes from experience with past programs like Constellation, which fell behind schedule while being funded at levels similar to SLS and Orion today. A report by NASA’s Office of the Inspector General last month specifically warned of potential delays and cost overruns with Orion, citing the flat funding profile projected for the program versus the more traditional bell-shaped funding profile.
Officials with companies working on the programs disputed that assessment: Boeing’s SLS program manager said she is currently five months ahead of schedule. NASA itself provided a statement to the Sentinel reiterating the party line that the agency’s budget “fully funds” SLS and Orion for a 2017 inaugural launch. Garver didn’t sound convinced. “People are more optimistic than … reality,” she told the Sentinel.
“NASA still has too much on its plate,” she concluded. “We came here trying to avoid that, and I’m afraid we’re headed back in that direction.”