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Former NASA official gives talk at East Lansing Library

January 13, 2023
<p>NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gives a welcoming message at the STS-135 Tweetup at Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, July 7, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. About 150 NASA Twitter followers attended the event. The STS-135 mission will be NASA's last space shuttle launch. Photo Credit: (NASA/Paul E. Alers)</p>

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gives a welcoming message at the STS-135 Tweetup at Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, July 7, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. About 150 NASA Twitter followers attended the event. The STS-135 mission will be NASA's last space shuttle launch. Photo Credit: (NASA/Paul E. Alers)

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, during a video call discussion at the East Lansing Public Library, former Deputy Administrator of NASA and author Lori Garver discussed her new memoir, “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age,” as well as her roots in Michigan, her journey to Washington D.C. how she came to her role as deputy administrator for NASA.

Garver grew up in Haslett, just outside of East Lansing, and did not realize that a career in the aerospace sector would be in store for her future. In her book, which was released last year, Garver told her side of the story on how she began analyzing policy for NASA and making a name for herself in the aerospace field.

“Growing up in Haslett … without engineering parents or knowing any astronauts when I got to the senior ranks of NASA, that was pretty unique,” Garver said. “Most people had been raised with engineering parents and grandparents who worked on Apollo.”

Garver went on to be a presidential appointee for aerospace programs and NASA under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. At first, she was a part of Obama’s transition team but in 2009, she took on the role of deputy administrator at NASA.

“It really reinforced this belief that getting people from other walks of life into these leadership positions can really be beneficial and that taking a broader view of doing things that are for a larger purpose is something a lot of government leaders have, but sometimes lose,” Garver said.

Garver said in her talk that she could never have imagined that years later she would have the career she did including meeting the Apollo 11 astronauts, training with Lance Bass of the band, “NSYNC” to go to space together and meeting her favorite Star Trek actors throughout her time at NASA.

Garver said she wanted to tell her story about how she felt vilified for wanting to focus on practical uses for the space program rather than physical human exploration.

“I do think (the book is) a blueprint for positive government change,” Garver said. “I think it's a blueprint for women growing up in fields where there are fewer of them and to be willing to take risks and that you can get through it.”

In the book, Garver said she talked a lot about the people she calls “space pirates.” These are billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

“They have taken their own riches to invest in technologies and missions that are lowering the cost of space transportation and for me, that is a positive thing,” Garver said. “Separating that from how we view these billionaires is something I talked quite a bit about in the book, but they're the companies they have begun to make, in my view, a positive difference.”

In her post-NASA career, Garver has switched her focus toward more philanthropic goals in the space sector in diversity, equity and inclusion and climate issues.

Garver has started two nonprofit organizations. One of them, the Brooke Owens Fellowship, provides internships and mentoring opportunities to women and people of color interested in aerospace.

“Almost anyone who is a leader or mentor… (says), you get more out of those relationships than you could possibly return,” Garver said. “For me and the Owens fellows, we have around 40 to 50 students each year in the program. Even my kids (say) ‘We know you’re happiest when you're around the Brookies,’ which is what we call (the students) and they call me ‘Space Mom.’ It is a joy.”

Garver said that there are around 250 people who have gone through the Brooke Owens fellowship. The aerospace sector is normally dominated by “white, military men,” but she said she wanted to inspire a different generation of potential aerospace workers.

“I know that while I was able to accomplish a lot in my life, there would be no way to do as much as when you are able to facilitate others to come after you,” Garver said. “It's just ripples on a pond and so why not make a lot of ripples start?”

With her mother, sister and many hometown friends at her talk, she believes that it is beneficial to talk to local people and stick to her hometown roots when reflecting on national policy.

Garver said she wanted to do the event because she felt it was beneficial and important to stick to her hometown roots. She said her family has always been clear that even though she is in Washington, D.C., she shouldn’t lose touch with people back home.

Her mother, Peggy Garver, was excited to hear her daughter talk about her life’s work in her hometown where she said people are rooting for her. 

“It’s really fun, but Lori has been an amazing kid for a long time,” Peggy Garver said. “All the time she worked at NASA there was always something going on and quite often I didn't understand it, but it was fun to hear her talk about it.”

East Lansing Public Library employee Angelo Moreno said part of his job is to take books to retirement homes. When Peggy Garver told Moreno about her daughter who had released a book, Moreno wanted the community to hear Garver’s story.

“(It’s about) just going out there and getting to know people in the community and discovering that there are authors among us,” Moreno said.

Moreno said that the author talks are a perfect time to learn about the community and grab a book on the way out to learn more about the topics Garver covered. 

“Just expanding people's knowledge and meeting people's curiosity – and connecting people to new ideas and new books,” Moreno said.


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