Opinion: Pressers and a Twitter Tempest in a Teapot

Lori garver
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. Photo Credit: NASA

Over the past few hours, the Twitterdom—if that term can be used—has lit up with tweets from @nasawatch, @keithcowing, and friends disparaging AmericaSpace and bringing into question my honesty. What sin did AmericaSpace—really I—commit to warrant such treatment? We didn’t publish a couple of press releases. I’m not joking.

When we got word on Monday that NASA’s Deputy Administrator was to announce her resignation the next day, I worked with my sources into the night and then throughout the morning to produce a tough, but I (obviously) think balanced, article on Ms. Garver’s controversial tenure at NASA. But I made an error—I forgot to link to the NASA Administrator’s press release, or pressers in media-speak, on Ms. Garver’s departure from the space agency. That error has been corrected. Others felt that pressers about Ms. Garver’s departure from Representative Fattah, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science as well as one from the Commercial Space Federation, should also have been included. So why didn’t I? Well, that goes to the site’s history. It most certainly did not reflect any disrespect on my part of Ms. Garver. And not to jump ahead, but the press releases from Appropriations CSJ Subcommittee Ranking Member Fattah and CSF are at the bottom of this post. It’s OK if you want to jump there; I don’t mind. Now on to why AmericaSpace doesn’t do plain vanilla pressers.

When I started AmericaSpace in late 2005, it was to produce pieces on technical aerospace issues, yet written in a layperson’s terms. But getting content was difficult and at some sad point AmericaSpace became a soapbox—more or less—for my views. As hard as it may be for some to believe, I got tired of hearing—really reading—myself. So to fill in the times when I had no content of my own, I started posting pressers. A long presser can hide a multitude of lack-of-content sins.

Then Jason Rhian came aboard and we started working with writers, photographers, and videographers to bring to the site what he and I both felt the readers should have—original content. We made a very deliberate decision to stop posting pressers as is, unless they were especially newsworthy, and we did so for two main reasons.

First, pressers crowded out the content we were paying people to generate, which seemed silly. And a lot of pressers meant that our readers had to wade through them while also trying to read a great historical piece by Ben Evans, view a pithy op-ed by Jason, or see Alan Walters’ stunning imagery. That seemed downright wrong. For some sites, these reasons may not have been a big deal. For us here, we were not going to make that compromise to the AmericaSpace we both wanted to build.

Today, all of us here at AmericaSpace work hard to bring you original content, and we are proud of the news, historical pieces, analyses, op-eds, images, and videos that are produced on AmericaSpace. Occasionally we will post a presser. But normally that is from a site with which we are working or for something that is especially newsworthy. Congressman announces that he nightly wears pink slippers and a powder blue tutu while singing “I’m a lumber jack, and that’s OK … ” might qualify as newsworthy. Congressman says goodbye to someone who is leaving office yet will still be on the D.C. social circuit seems much less so. Apparently, this makes me a very dishonest person. Who knew?

Now back to the pressers desired by some. First is Ranking Member Fattah’s and then the Commercial Space Federation. I leave it to our readers to determine for themselves how “newsworthy” either is. Without further adieu …

If you want to post ever more pressers about NASA’s Deputy Administrator’s exit, just email them to me at jim@americaspace.com and I’ll add them to this post. Please don’t post them as comments, unless you have some analysis, add some context, something…and if that’s too much, then you’re free to post them in the comments section here. Otherwise, you’ll be asked to leave, but nicely.

Congressman Fattah Statement on the Departure of NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver


Congressman Chaka Fattah, Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies, which includes NASA, released the following statement on the announced departure of NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver:

“NASA is losing an invaluable leader today. In her role as NASA Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver has been an unrivaled champion and defender of space exploration, guiding and implementing the Commercial Crew program, the re-establishment of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and so many more of the Administration’s space priorities.

“Lori and I share a passion for space technology and I’ve had the honor and pleasure of partnering with her on several cutting-edge space initiatives. She is a true visionary who inspires those who work around her, and she leaves NASA a stronger, more efficient, and more innovative agency. I commend her longstanding dedication to advancing and strengthening NASA’s mission, and ensuring the United States continues to be a world leader in space exploration. I have no doubt that Lori will continue to be a friend to the space community.”

CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria Statement on Lori Garver’s Departure from NASA

by Sbandla on AUGUST 6, 2013

“Throughout her years of service and leadership at NASA, Lori Garver has been a stalwart champion of commercial space and of the public-private partnerships that have begun to change the way the Agency does business,” said CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria. “The innovations she promoted will serve the Agency well as it navigates a period of change and challenge. We will miss Lori in the space community and wish her the best as she sets a new course for herself. I know she will continue to be a leader and role model in all of her future endeavors.”

Peter Diamandis’ Statement on Lori Garver’s Departure from NASA:

Lori has been one of the most important forces for supporting commercial space during the past decade. Her leadership has been critical to the entire commercial spaceflight industry. Her impact will be felt for decades to come.

Elon Musk’s Statement on Lori Garver’s Departure from NASA:

“Lori made a real difference to the future of spaceflight. Most people put their career first, so they play politics and pander to the vested interests. But there are some who truly care about humanity’s future in space and will do the right thing in the face of immense opposition. We are fortunate to have several such people in NASA senior leadership and Lori was one of them.”

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  1. Jim, the problem is that your original piece about Lori Garver’s resignation came off as more of a biased op-ed piece, rather than a story. Your view appeared strongly partisan and put her solely in a negative light. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you’re getting negative feedback. I’m no follower of any particular camp, including NASAWATCH’s. This is just my feeling as an avid space enthusiast who wants to see America excel in manned space exploration and exploitation, regardless of anyone’s political affiliation. AmericaSpace tends to drag political bias into quite a few of the articles. That’s not good journalism.

    • Thanks for you comments. If you read the Opinion piece here, you’ll learn that this article was well researched and had sources frankly falling all over themselves to contribute what they knew. That article could have been much, much longer and biting, with multiple sources to independently back up everything. Perhaps I should have included some points about the emphasis she added for social media, for more participation by students and others. But the article was already long, the day was half-way through, and I guess “go fever” got to me. I’m human.

      I don’t mind negative feedback…well, not too much. I get enough of it here to have built-up a pretty thick skin. But what I do mind is someone using the comments section to paste pressers without adding any context as to why normally bland, cookie-cutter, plain-vanilla language is newsworthy. Is anyone surprised that Elon, the CSF, Diamandis, and others are sad that Ms. Garver is leaving NASA? Of course not. She was their comrad in arms. But how are their words newsworthy? Do their pressers reveal anything that the readers here don’t know about Ms. Garver, her tenure at NASA, or insight into her views?

      We don’t go to others sites and paste in the comments section pressers we view in a favorable light. That is simply impolite. Maybe that is because I’m 50 and grew-up in a different era. But those are the House rules. And I hope people coming here will respect that. If not, well there’s always closing the comments section on a per article basis.

  2. Jim,
    I tried posting here a few months ago and haven’t bothered since. I don’t care to be lumped in with whatever crowd draws the ire of the editor. From my reading of the stories and comments here, AmericaSpace probably considers my silence to be good for the website. There are those here and elsewhere that will take any contrary discussion as a personal attack. I don’t see any point in contributing to comment slugfests that generate heat rather than light.

    I think your perception of space development is influenced by your petroleum background in that it is necessary to risk dry holes to get to the wells that make it all worthwhile. Re NASA and Newspace, many of us question the cost of exploring the different fields.

    I would be good with no funds for ‘commercial’ companies except for services actually rendered, or hardware actually delivered. I would be thrilled to see the entire aerospace industry held to that standard.

    • John,

      The latest issue involves people throwing stuff on the comments section without at least taking the trouble to actually comment on its context. You haven’t done that; quite the opposite. You’ve left a thoughtful comment. That’s exactly what this area is for.

      I’m a Conservative—at least, that’s what I’ve been told—because I object to the NASA — New Space arrangement, which is:
      1. Gov’t is paying very nearly all of the funding for companies to go from concept to hardware. According to their own Congressional testimony, SpaceX has contributed just under 10% of its total funding in both COTS and CCP. This certainly represents a high-water mark among commercial space companies participating in CCP.
      2. After paying very nearly all of the DDTE for these spacecraft and rockets, the gov’t must then pay for the use of the hardware.
      3. Until CCP transitions to federal contracts, it will have no equity stake in the hardware and software that it paid 90% or more of the development cost.

      When I tell people in the O&G business about this arrangement, people at first think I’m stretching the truth. But a few have read up and realized I’m not. And they cannot, just as I cannot, believe that this perversion of the market is looked upon in DC as nothing abnormal.

      But I guess if the gov’t came to me and others and paid us to drill and then paid us for the oil, we’d think that they were idiots for doing this, but we’d likely go along. Who doesn’t like very nearly free money?

      I guess I’m trying to say that I don’t mind if the gov’t invests in high-risk development. I just don’t like it that the govt then has to pay to even use the fruits of its investment. But then, as I’ve been told, I’m an Old Space, Conservative Hater.

      In any case, glad you posted.

      • Nearly free money is one of my issues with government contracting set ups. If most of an industry is getting the nearly free money, then any player that doesn’t is at a severe competitive disadvantage. I am New Space and have a real problem with the market distortion that results. I have a number of friends in the business that largely do government work. I feel that space would be opened up better by firms doing it with hard headed private investment only so that costs were felt by the investors that owned the money, and were watching ROI with a critical eye.

        Where you and I have serious disagreement is in the value that NASA can deliver with the SLS system. I think that SLS is the equivalent of designing and building a large specialized cargo ship of high capacity from a shipyard that is milking you for every dollar possible. The cost of this ship for a relative handfull of trips is extremely high. I believe that a true commercial alternative is the equivalent of leasing cargo ships on demand when and as you need cargo delivered. You never own the leased cargo ships (which I interpret as your main objection to commercial as currently practiced), but you also don’t support them between deliveries. Even a terrible lease deal, from rip off companies, can easily beat the true cost of designing, building, and operating a specialized ship at infrequent intervals with an organization being tormented and blown by the political winds.

        I am not a good enough wordsmith to phrase this all in neutral terms. For the development cost of SLS, NASA could purchase dozens of commercial launches from ULA, Arianespace, Roscosmos, SpaceX, Orbital, Sea Launch, and others if they can do the job. For the same cost, there could be thousands of tons delivered on orbit before SLS reaches operational status. It would be cheaper to design spacecraft to work with available vehicles by using refueling on orbit than going for a giant new rocket.

        I have been ripped off by taxicab drivers and still find that preferable to buying a car in each city I visit. That is how I view the commercial vs SLS debate.

        • Hi John,

          Thanks for your comments! Great points! I think we’re concerned that the problem is the newer, private companies, have yet to prove their claims as viable. If SpaceX begins launching Falcon Heavy on a regular basis at costs near what they claim – then I agree with you, SLS should be placed up for competitive bidding. However, that’s the problem. SpaceX is the clear front runner in terms of commercial space – yet they’re only able to launch their Falcon 9 rocket, a smaller, simpler design, at the rate of about once a year. It goes back to one of my key issues with these companies, they make many claims, but haven’t, to date, launched anyone – anywhere.

          Your comments about how it’d be cheaper to have SLS contracts given to smaller, lower-bidding companies make sense. However, I disagree with your overall take on it. Too many of these companies either go the way of Kistler & Rotary or they just emit a never-ending stream of promises, releases & PowerPoints – but launch nothing. Initially I was very hard on SpaceX – but then they gained my respect the old-fashioned way – they earned it.

          I think having these companies prove themselves in LEO first is a very smart way to handle this. Let them prove their claims & hardware first – before they’re given an exponentially harder challenge. Once they do that? Then by all means, let them bid on BEO efforts. I hope this makes sense. It just seems more rational to have these companies prove the viability of their offerings in an incremental approach. What do you think?

          Lastly, I know these conversations can become…heated & wanted to say that, while you disagreed with us, you didn’t resort to any of the tactics we’ve lamented over in the past. Thank you. I hope more folks who support NewSpace can learn from your example as it will encourage “OldSpacers” to take NewSpace claims seriously. We need an infusion of excitement & energy in space matters & I think NewSpacers could provide that.

          Also, Ferris raised a valid point in the past, “NewSpace” doesn’t always fit, but it’s a (too) convenient shorthand to describe a group. Apologies if this bothers you as it has others. I readily admit my dislike for trying to place people in a group simply because they share one or two traits.

          Sincerely and with much thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Hi Jason. Well I agree with this discussion so far. My major disagreement with the SLS program is that NASA didn’t simply open tender it if that was really a vehicle that was needed. All commercial companies could have bid based on the basic requirements such as mass to orbit rather than specifying the design details. Alternatively use existing and any new proven vehicles to do whatever missions you require going forward.
            SLS as it stands now, is looking so expensive that there won’t be any money left for any other hardware for any mission that might require it short of splashing the ISS or gutting other worthwhile programs.

            Wrt SpaceX, yes they do have to prove that they can provide a reliable service, agreed. We’ll find out pretty soon I think if they can do that and if so then their customers will save buckets on their launch missions over existing providers. Even the Germans seem to be stepping aboard. I think the odds are they’ll do ok with their F9 v1.1. FH, that’s still with the jury but there seems no technical reason for it not to work.

            • Hi Neil,
              The ISS traps NASA/human space flight where it has been for the past 40 years – LEO. I make no bones about ISS being impressive, but it came in incredibly over budget & late. If NewSpacers weren’t paid big bucks to ferry cargo & crew to the ISS – they’d be ripping it to shreds. I think the movement’s support of the station is transparent (albeit with a shade of green) & rather telling about the movement as a whole. If it ends up in the Pacific while we end up on the Moon, Mars & other destinations – I think it’s worth it. I have zero issue with your comments about SLS & existing hardware, nor am I particularly thrilled at the expense of the vehicle. However, Boeing & Lock-Mart are proven, viable companies with rich histories in providing human-rated spacecraft. The latest crop of new companies – don’t have their resume, they’ve never launched a single person & therefore I feel Congress opted to place their money on proven firms. Consider this, what if we turned the clock back a few years with Kistler, Rotary or Sea Launch (yes I’m aware the paradigm doesn’t fit the last two – bear with me) & NewSpacers got their way & won open bidding. Where would SLS be? That’s right – it’d be starting over from scratch. While I might want a number of companies to be able to compete for things such as SLS, given the scale of what the vehicle needs to do? I’d prefer companies with a track record get it.

              While I agree with 90 percent of your 2nd paragraph, you seem to be overlooking the 27 engines in the first stage. History is an excellent teacher, one which NewSpacers don’t seem interested in. One need only look at the Soviet N-1 for one technical reason why the FH design is troubling.
              Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

              • Sorry Jason but I didn’t mention ISS.
                Existing firms other than SpaceX haven’t built a launch vehicle in decades. DIdn’t mention other so called Newspace companies. Did say open tender SLS if there was a mission or need for such a vehicle which no body has yet demonstrated.
                Did say that the expected costs of SLS (NASA can’t even give a reasonable estimate yet) is going to finish any possibility of other missions.
                N1 had a completely different setup to FH and FH is derived from F9 but I did say that the jury is out on the FH so not totally unqualified support.

                • Sorry Neil, but you did mention ISS. Here are your own words:

                  Aug.9, 8:17 a.m. – “…that might require it short of splashing the ISS or gutting other worthwhile programs.” (This is the part where you apologize).

                  Orbital Sciences’ Antares? ATK’s Ares 1-X? There have been other companies which have built launch vehicles in the past decade (technically speaking all launch vehicles are “built”).

                  That’s NewSpace propaganda, which we’ve already addressed – read our Dumbacher interview. After NewSpacers said, “NASA doesn’t want, need, can afford SLS, nor does it have a mission.” The next “argument” they raised was NASA couldn’t afford missions for it after it was built. I’d like to address this as well, but, I doubt folks willing to say anything to “win” a discussion – will listen.

                  N-1 – 30 engines in 1st stage, FH – 27. Too many engines = too many things that can go wrong. It’s a simple concept to grasp.

                  The very first comment in your Aug. 10, 11:38 post was a lie, so why should anyone listen to anything you say? This is why some people don’t believe NewSpacers. Lying is also one of the things which gets you banned, especially when you do so in order to “correct” others.

                  Cheers – Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  3. So Lori got a job at SpaceX….???? Big Surprise isn’t that how it is done in Washington?…Can’t wait for the Cylons….er… AI…. to take over

  4. Bravo for this piece. Stepping up to the microphones and addressing external criticisms, whether deserved or not, its to be applauded. When I began to read Americaspace, it was not with an intention to be reading Time, Newsweek, nasawatch (for sure) or any other publication. I was attracted by the unique content and opinions featured here. If some disagree with your approach or that content, fabulous. That’s what journalism is for. And editorialized journalism is a long-held tradition in this country; anyone who claims that the other sites referred to above are not editorializing does not get out enough. Do you editorialize more? Possibly, though certainly not in all comparisons. Do I agree with all of it? Nope. Is that a good thing? You bet. If my thinking is not being challenged, then I am not thinking.

    As for nasawatch… well, attracting that particular bolt of lightning can be considered a badge of honor, if one cares to consider it that important. And editorializing? Lack of inclusion? I’ll leave that one open for discussion.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. I am not about to enter into “good” or “bad”, “fair” or “unfair”, “right” or “wrong”. It seems that the entire foundation for the discussion has shifted. Newspace is always on the offense, Oldspace is always on the defense. AmericaSpace seems to be “presumed guilty until proven innocent.” If a Newspace site posted material excoriating and crucifying Mike Griffin, the Newspacers would purr contently and savage anyone who posted on the site calling for “fairness” and “equality”(if such heresy would even be allowed). When AmericaSpace posts a well-supported article that many individuals in the industry would agree is accurate (if off the record and behind closed doors), AmericaSpace must still go on the defensive. Would that happen on a Newspace site? The critical posts did not set forth with any clarity exactly where Jim’s article contained inaccuracies, false statements, or distortions, the critical posts were essentially “how could you dare to challenge what we all want to believe.” I’m so tired of Newspacers trying to turn NASA into little more than a money trough for anyone with a slick Power Point presentation, a glitzy “we’re young and good, NASA is old and bad” internet presence, and hot tub and champagne political connections. Any questioning of the Newspace Gospel, the Musksiaah, etc. is now completely off the table, except at AmericaSpace which is not afraid to say aloud that the Emperor has no clothes (and that he probably isn’t going to retire on Mars). There is ample argument as to whether or not Orion/SLS should be defunded, but never any argument as to whether CommSpace should be defunded. There’s never talk about should “for profit alleged private sector” CommSpace receive tax dollars, only how many tax dollars should it receive. It’s quite accepted, approved, and trendy to urge ending SLS/Orion, but don’t even THINK of discussing ending the subsidy to CommSpace. Quite a shift in the entire spectrum of the discussion. Talk about “fairness”, try to find another site like AmericaSpace that makes an effort to provide a balanced, fact-based approach and is not just another Newspace cheerleading section. For those of us who do not wish to blindly “embrace Newspace”, and will not drink the Kool-Aid, AmericaSpace is a clarion of truth, fairness, and accuracy. Oh, and yes, this is an opinion.

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