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Alumni Newsmakers

Shooting for the Stars

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver shakes hands with President Barack Obama during a visit to Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

When Lori Garver, MA '89, was studying space policy at GW, she and her classmates rented a car with their professor and drove all night to Florida to see a shuttle launch. Unfortunately, bad weather delayed blast-off, and they got back in the car for the nearly 13-hour return trip to D.C.

Luckily, it wasn't her last opportunity to witness a launch. Ms. Garver, the deputy administrator of NASA, has seen about 30 since then. At the last shuttle launch she attended, she escorted the deputy prime minister of Russia, who was visiting because the U.S. rocket was carrying a Russian module to the space station.

"Standing there as it goes off right on time, beautiful day, and you feel the reverberations on your chest…I couldn't feel more proud," says Ms. Garver, whose position makes her the second-in-command at NASA.

Ms. Garver was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama in 2009 after serving as the lead civil space policy adviser for his presidential campaign and leading the agency review team for NASA after the election. She has also worked on the Hillary Clinton and John Kerry campaigns as the lead space policy adviser.

"We are explorers—we will never as a civilization say: This far and no further," says Ms. Garver, who is a recipient of the 2010 Alumni Achievement Award from the GW Alumni Association. "Working at NASA is an unbelievable thing."

As a political science graduate, she took a position with Ohio Senator John Glenn as her first job after college. A former astronaut, the senator was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962 and introduced Ms. Garver to the world of space policy.

Ms. Garver's current job involves providing leadership, planning, and policy guidance for the agency. Among her priorities for NASA is a goal President Obama set forth, which is for humans to land on an asteroid by 2025.

"I'm a people person. NASA has the best people," she says. "I joke, 'These rockets don't build themselves.' These people, they want to make a difference. And they are the smartest people on the planet."

Ms. Garver herself nearly journeyed into space once. Starting in 2001, she made a bid to be a commercial space explorer. She solicited sponsorships, using the label "AstroMom" to garner support for her efforts to launch into the final frontier.

That flight didn't take off for Ms. Garver, but it hasn't affected her support for pursuing space policy careers.

"I have literally told maybe hundreds of people," she says. "I really seriously do believe it's a growing field and…I don't think you can overestimate the things that can happen in the next number of decades in this field."

—Caitlin Carroll