Escaping Gravity: Lori Garver on Leading the Commercial Space charge at NASA


Ryan sits down with Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA and author of the new book: “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age.”


Welcome to the fifth episode of Pathfinder, a weekly show where Payload managing editor and host Ryan Duffy sits down with the top shot-callers in space.

Per Escaping Gravity’s cover description, “from inside the space agency, Garver collaborated with key players such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and President Obama to usher in a more peaceful, inclusive and meaningful space age.” Lori led the NASA transition team for then-President-elect Barack Obama and would eventually go on to be the second-in-command at the US space agency. During her tenure, Lori was widely credited for ushering in a new era of competition in commercial space.

Now, Lori is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, an Executive in Residence at Bessemer Venture Partners, and a member of the Board of Directors for Hydrosat. Garver founded Earthrise Alliance, a philanthropic organization utilizing satellite data to address climate change, and cofounded the Brooke Owens Fellowship, an internship and mentorship program for collegiate women.

Thanks to Lori for coming on Pathfinder, and for being our third video interview! And thanks to SpiderOak Mission Systems for their continued support.

Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems — — an industry leader in space cybersecurity. Check out the company’s space cybersecurity white paper here.


0:00 – Show intro 

1:21 – Lori’s résumé

5:09 – Her view of American space exploration with “a very unique window on a very important time in our history” 

6:20 – Looking beyond space to how the nation grapples with complex threats,  COVID-19, and the military industrial complex 

8:44 – SpaceX and the first crewed launch, “it was a relief that it was happening” 

10:34 – Are we in a paradigm shift?  

11:55 – Pushback within NASA and walking the line…“it’s very hard to make meaningful change in government”

14:02 – Dealing with adversity within NASA and justifying the need for spaceflight programs 

18:17 – Former head of NASA proposing to transfer the commercial crew budget and move it to the rocket program, “embedded a conflict between the private sector…. And SLS & Orion” 

19:48 – NASA’s purposes include commercial space development

23:10 – What are cup boys?!

25:09 – Transferring from NASA to industry, aka the revolving door, is “a cycle that’s unhealthy for our nation’s space program” 

28:05 – What are Lori’s key performance indicators (KPIs)

33:20 – Lori on the difficulties of leaving NASA

37:04 – Unpacking “Political science can often be more complicated than rocket science”

41:30 – You don’t need a technical background to get into the space industry!

45:29 – Who are the space pirates and space elites now? 

49:04 – Convergence between space and tech industries, and how/whether the two are competing for talent

53:00 – Lori’s thoughts on diversifying the space industry and how thinking differently can drive positive change 

56:16 – Are we going to have an animal metric system for measuring asteroids?

59:05 – Lori’s experience training for space, singing John Denver to help her stay calm during the spinning chair

1:02:40– When will Lori go to space?