Official NASA Aerospace Industry Pioneer: ‘Sisterhood Culture’ Is Bad For Business”

And the former NASA deputy administrator has a message for Elon Musk: Don’t trip over your ego.

“SpaceX has a huge lead and is operating faster than any competitor, including every major aerospace company,” she wrote. “To me, it’s fantastic and scary at the same time.”

In an interview with CNN Business, Garver said she was disheartened to read recent reports alleging toxicity within SpaceX’s corporate culture amid Musk’s erratic behavior on Twitter and a “bro culture.” broader, as she said, that permeates the aerospace industry.

Garver warned that if companies don’t seriously address issues such as harassment and a lack of inclusiveness, “they will lose workforce.”

“These rockets don’t build themselves,” she said. “The best and the brightest, they’re not going to accept behavior that’s really distracting… Bro culture could be successful in the past because the predominant number of engineers were white males. It’s no longer the case. And we absolutely benefit from all comers. All viewpoints.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment for this story, nor has it responded to routine reporter inquiries for years.

In her book, Garver also recounts the harassment she said she faced during her career in aerospace, which extended to NASA as well as various other corporate and government jobs. Being objectified was just “part of being a woman working in aerospace when I was in my 20s and 30s,” she said.

In her book, she recalls a NASA supervisor who “once told me to come to his office so I could get my birthday spanked” in front of several colleagues.

“I never reported the incident to NASA or its employer. Embarrassed and assuming that it would be my own career that would suffer, I, like so many others, swept such occurrences under the rug,” she wrote. “I’m ashamed for many reasons, but mostly because the behavior probably continued.”

“It’s time to end entrenched misconduct justifications as well as the dominance on the pitch of people – including in his leadership – who look and think alike,” Garver wrote. “Progress towards diversity, equity and inclusion has been far too slow.”

When Garver was selected to become NASA’s second-in-command in 2009, she said she had already been thinking for decades about shaking up the space agency’s contracting policies. The old method, known as the “cost plus” contract, in some ways gave NASA corporate partners a blank check to complete projects, and they were routinely delayed and over budget.

The contracting method that Garver and a small group of others developed for human spaceflight programs at NASA is called the commercial contracting structure. It allows companies to compete for contracts before NASA distributes fixed sums of money. If the projects go over budget, it is up to the contractors to cover the costs. But many aerospace players backed down, arguing that human spaceflight programs were too complex and technologically expensive for multiple companies to attempt.

It was a contentious and uphill battle trying to change the system, Garver recalls.

“Senior industry and government officials have enjoyed deriding [SpaceX] and Elon in the early years,” Garver wrote in his book. “To me, that seemed irresponsible.”

At one point, Garver describe herself as one of “Musk’s staunchest supporters [and] defenders.”
Ultimately, the commercial crew program was approved and funded by Congress. SpaceX and Boeing have both been chosen for multi-billion dollar contracts, and two years ago SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft safely delivered its first crew of astronauts to the International Space Station. The company has since completed three additional launches for NASA astronauts as well as two purely commercial missions for wealthy thrill seekers. (Boeing is still working to get its Starliner spacecraft operational, but conducted a test flight last month.)

SpaceX’s success has won over many former Commercial Crew Program skeptics.

Still, Garver admits she didn’t expect SpaceX to stand out in the commercial space race. When she first dreamed up this new approach to awarding contracts, it was “so long before billionaire investors in space” became part of the public imagination. “We always thought it would be [legacy] aerospace companies,” such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing, she told CNN.

“It’s not something we had considered for a number of reasons,” she said. “First of all, we hadn’t imagined billionaires amassing so many billions.”


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