SpaceX Should Build NASA's Rockets Amid $20bn SLS Cost: Ex-NASA Administrator Lori Garver

Lori Garver, former deputy administrator for NASA, has said the space agency should turn to SpaceX and the private sector for rockets rather than build its own.

Garver said NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) has cost $20 billion in 11 years and could increase by a further seven billion, in an interview with CBS.

The SLS will be the backbone behind NASA's plans to put humans—and perhaps the first woman—on the moon once more.

SpaceX has already built and flown its Falcon Heavy rocket which is also capable of carrying cargo into deep space.

Garver told host Bill Whitaker: "I would not have recommended the government build a $27 billion rocket when the private sector is building rockets nearly as large for no cost to the taxpayer.

"But the Congress had a different goal. Their goal was really to extend the contracts and jobs in their districts."

Jodi Singer, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the first woman to hold the position, defended the decision to develop the SLS. She told CBS over 25,000 people across 45 states have been employed as a result of the rocket's development.

"It is built for going to deep space. And right now, it's the only vehicle that exists that can carry the Orion and take what it does to be able to go to deep space."

SLS will be capable of producing 9.5 million lbs of thrust—enough to lift more than 46 tons of payload not just into orbit, but deep space. Part of the rocket's payload will include the Orion capsule, which is the part of the spacecraft that humans will sit inside.

SpaceX say the Falcon Heavy provides around 5 million lbs of thrust at liftoff, but each launch costs a fraction of what it will cost to launch the SLS. In 2019 NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN it could cost as much as $1.6 billion each time SLS is launched if NASA were to purchase them one at a time from Boeing, which is contracted to build them, or around $800 million if they were bought in bulk.

Elon Musk claimed on Twitter in 2018 that a Falcon Heavy would cost $150 million to launch each time even if the rocket was fully expendable like the SLS is. Often, Falcon Heavy's booster stages are capable of landing themselves to be reused, bringing the cost down.

Garver told CBS she thinks NASA "undoubtedly" should start relying on SpaceX for commercial launches to the moon and beyond. She doubted Congress would allow the administration to make such a move, however.

Garver was NASA's second in command as NASA's deputy administrator. She stepped down from the position in 2013.

NASA expects to launch the SLS for the first time in the second half of this year. Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA's first female launch director behind Artemis, told CBS future moon missions would be important because scientific data is still being gathered from lunar samples that the Apollo missions returned decades ago.

NASA SLS
NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. The rocket will be hugely powerful but there have been concerns about its cost. Jude Guidry/NASA/AFP/Getty