Lori Garver Says: NASA Should Dump Space Launch System

Lifting off at 3:45 p.m. from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its demonstration flight. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver has a op-ed in The Hill arguing that NASA should dump the Space Launch System in the wake of the successful maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost?

If lawmakers continue on this path, it will siphon-off even more funds that NASA could otherwise use for science missions, transfer vehicles or landers that will further advance our understanding of the universe — and actually get us somewhere.

NASA has spent more than $15 billion to try and develop their own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), with a first flight planned in roughly two years — assuming all goes according to plan.

Once operational, SLS will cost NASA over $1 billion per launch. The Falcon Heavy, developed at zero cost to the taxpayer, would charge NASA approximately $100M per launch. In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch — and invest the remainder in truly revolutionary and meaningful missions that advance science and exploration.

Read the full piece.

  • Tim Helmer

    If we dump it and Elon takes say a decade to get BFR going then people will be saying what the hell did we do? We almost had a deep space exploration vehicle ready to go and we shot ourselves in the foot. It’s insurance. Let’s get it done. Finish what we started.

  • Tim Helmer

    Also we have to ask a hard question. Would you choose the Orion or the BFR to come back from deep space at 25,000mph? I would choose Orion because the design was proven to be a good concept 50 years ago. BRF will be much larger and have a greater surface area. More points of failure.

  • Tim Helmer

    He does the hard stuff first. I think the guy has a real thirst for Engineering. He loves it.

  • windbourne

    Rabid progressive? Lol. I was registered Libertarian for several decades, and only recently became a GDI.

    I lived for a year in Irving ( old cowboy stadium was backyard with dried riverbed, trees, and rattlesnakes ) and taught various comp. Sci for NASA ( C, C++, *nix kernel, networking, corba )down in Houston.

    Like most engineers I know, zero desire to live in Texas. That is why one of your billionaires bought a ranch in Colorado and then declared it a Texas state park ( lasted for less than a month ). Even Texans hate the state.

    As to school ratings, I will say that tx has come up, but nearly all reviews put them quite low. They still have a heavy focus on sports and not on education.

    Here is one with CA/tx right next to each other.

    All in all, most engineers, esp young ones, will have little to do with tx.

  • Henry Vanderbilt

    Simple. Don’t wait on BFR. Explore with the rockets we have. Now including Falcon Heavy. Transition to new and better rockets only as they arrive.

  • Tim Helmer

    It’s important that NASA has a replacement for Apollo and the Shuttle. Their has to be something to fall back on. This rocket will be the workhorse should all else fail or or be delayed due to “technical difficulties”. We all have seen how these development programs stretch on for decades. It ain’t the 60’s no more.

  • Mr Snarky Answer


    Billions and billions of dollars of waste. You are suffering from sunk cost bias.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, or 10-20 FH launches. The old space contractors will never control cost if they are being paid on a cost plus basis.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Big difference between sending it on a barge thousands of miles through the Panama Canal versus a couple of hundred down a protected waterway.

    As for the bad tax situation (LOL)… Texas has No income tax. And the lack of micromanagement by regulators means you could buy a really nice house for a $150,000 or so. Indeed, I am renting the house I have here for less than I was paying in taxes each month in California. I suspect Elon Musk would find no shortage of engineers to move here, especially given the 13% they would have to pay California on those stock options when they cash out.

    As for third world countries, that is what LA looks like with all the homeless camps under the bridges and parks, not to mention all the beggers in the streets, along with pollution and traffic jams.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Jeff Bezos has no real problem finding engineers and his ranch is really in the middle of nowhere. And Irving is not South Padre Island.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, ok. Irving is no SPI. But, SPI is more of party zone than a family area. No?

    In addition, I was under the impression that BO treated tx like McGregor for SX; testing facility. Iow, all engineering/manufacturing goes on in washington. I could be wrong, and it would not surprise me.

  • windbourne

    Wow. If la looks like that, it has changed.
    I went there some 6-7 years ago, and other than the jams and pollution, I did not see the rest.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, the ranch is very very remote. I drove by it once on my way from Alpine to Las Vegas just to get a sense of the area and it’s pure West Texas emptiness. Spaceport America isn’t even that isolated, you are able to see the light glow of Las Cruces and T or C from it. But the night sky was fantastic with the Milky Way. My kinda of place 🙂

  • Nathaniel

    One launch a year isn’t much of a workhorse. There are much better ways to go about building a new generation of launch vehicles – SpaceX and Blue Origin are demonstrating some of them.

  • Search

    Lori who?

  • publiusr

    I want NTR–so as long as Elon has LH2-phobia–I stil want SLS.

  • Jeff2Space

    There’s always ULA. They have a hell of a lot of experience with high energy LH2/LOX upper stages. Actually, they have a lot more than NASA currently does. ACES combined with LEO fuel depots would go a long way towards building a real beyond LEO transportation architecture. For manned beyond LEO missions, “drop tanks” added to ACES would be quite helpful (if you’ve got fuel depot tech, “drop tanks” are trivial).

    NTR would be a nice thing to have, but it’s not at all necessary. Same goes for large scale solar electric propulsion. The US can continue to do a lot with RL-10 powered upper stages.

  • publiusr

    Hydrogen atop an EELV is a joke–they can’t put as much as SLS–and four or five D-IVs are worth an SLS launch as it is. No thanks

  • Jeff2Space

    I was talking just about the upper stage. I wonder how much arm twisting it would take for NASA to get ULA to build an ACES upper stage to launch in place of the upper stage on Falcon Heavy.

  • publiusr

    Atop BFR would be better. LH2 wants a lot of room.

  • Jeff2Space

    I think you’re definitely onto something.

  • Eric Reynolds

    You obviously weren’t paying attention (or have a personal problem with Lori). She was the most influential voice for utilizing Space Act Agreements, initiating commercial crew, Bigelow inflatable modules etc. She voiced concern for SLS consistently. This quote from the Orlando Sentinel, July 22, 2010, titled Senate Compromise May Be Setting Up NASA for Another Failure, states that “Days before the [SLS] compromise was announced, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told its two champions — U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas — that NASA could not finish the proposed new rocket before 2020, according to three sources present at the meetings.”