SpaceX is a now a key contributor on NASA’s efforts, but a former top official at the federal agency claims her bosses once mocked her for backing Elon Musk and his fledgling space exploration firm.
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver detailed the agency’s initially cold reception toward Musk and SpaceX in her forthcoming memoir titled “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age.”
“Senior industry and government officials took pleasure in deriding the company and Elon in the early years,” Garver wrote, according to an excerpt obtained by Business Insider.
Garver, who served as NASA’s deputy administrator from 2009 to 2013 during former President Barack Obama’s administration, described facing internal friction while pushing for increased collaboration with private firms such as SpaceX.
She alleges that NASA leadership was resistant to the idea and preferred the program to stay in government hands even as SpaceX and other firms pitched cheaper, more technologically advanced collaborations such as reusable rockets.
Garver’s memoir is particularly critical of current NASA administrator Bill Nelson – who purportedly demanded that she rein in Musk’s public commentary about the space program.
“In one particularly uncomfortable one-on-one meeting in his Senate hideaway, the intensity of his ire felt personally threatening,” Garver writes in the book. “In response to public comments Elon Musk had made about SpaceX’s ability to improve on NASA existing programs, Bill Nelson shouted at me to ‘get your boy Elon in line.’”
The ex-NASA official said Nelson now attempts to “wrap himself in the Commercial Crew flag” despite being wary of the public-private partnership in the past.
The Post has reached out to SpaceX and NASA for comment on the memoir.
SpaceX is one of several firms that work with NASA on space-related projected. In 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a new lunar lander to deliver astronauts to the Moon.
SpaceX has also transported astronauts to the International Space Station on multiple occasions. Earlier this year, NASA extended SpaceX’s Commercial Crew contract by three additional missions, TechCrunch reported.
“My story is difficult to separate from Elon’s because I wouldn’t have managed to pull off much of a transformation at NASA without him and SpaceX,” Garver added. “We’ve bled for the same cause and amassed the same enemies,” she wrote. “We each needed the other to succeed.”
NASA has since announced plans to take bids on a second commercially-made lunar lander – with billionaire Jeff Bezos’ firm Blue Origin among the favorites to secure the deal.