Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 6: Conclusion


“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
–John F. Kennedy

In Parts 1 through 5, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, Science, Saving the Earth, and Settlement as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I conclude the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight.

 

Conclusion. Since I’ve gone to the trouble to propose a series of value propositions for human spaceflight, what now?  What good is there in listing a bunch of potential value propositions?

One point I’d like to make is based on a comment that Scott Pace told me in a one-on-one conversation when he was an Associate Administrator at NASA: “People self-select into NASA because they believe in the mission.”  My interpretation of that statement is that people naturally, perhaps even unconsciously, seek an alignment of one’s core values with that of the organization. One could pose that an enduring value proposition is one in which the majority of stakeholders have core values aligned with the organization’s value proposition; conversely, a value proposition won’t endure if people don’t share it.  Additionally, when value propositions are challenged or are changed, we end up with divides and perceived uncertainty of purpose.  Such is the case today with NASA and human spaceflight.

Why do I say that?  Let me illustrate by bringing to the table the stakeholders in NASA, and I’ll focus on two in particular: the Executive Office of the President (which I’ll simply call “the President” from this point forward), and the Congress.

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Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 5: Settlement


“Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in.”
–Robert A. Heinlein

In Parts 1 through 4, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, Science, and Saving the Earth as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 5: Settlement.

 

Reason 5: Settlement. The pioneering spirit is deeply rooted in American culture.  Whether it is the European colonization of America, manifest destiny, or the call of the West, as Americans we’re long acquainted with the expansion of our frontiers.  In that context, space has been called “the last frontier” with good reason. One of the earliest books I recall reading is Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg, involving the revolt by the people inhabiting the fourth planet around the star Alpha Centauri A.  From there, I read numerous other science fiction authors, ranging from Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles to Issac Asimov’s Foundation series.  All of them had a common theme: humanity inhabiting other locations beyond Earth (and the entire galaxy in Asimov’s case).

Establishing a permanent human presence elsewhere calls into question a number of questions.  For example, what would it take to solve the problems of living off earth permanently?  Why would anyone want to go there?  And finally, would those pioneers be humans anymore?  The technical, philosophical, and moral questions reach deeply into the well of humanity.

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Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 4: Saving the Earth


“The earth is what we all have in common.”
–Wendell Barry

In Parts 1 through 3, I covered Nationalism, Commerce, and Science as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 4: Saving the Earth.

 

Reason 4: Saving the Earth.  In our quest to understand our universe, we often ask, “Are we alone?”  Besides the philosophical aspects of that question, the drive to understand has certainly influenced space exploration, with deep interest in the search for life elsewhere.  Whether it is sending probes to Mars to understand current and past conditions that might have been conducive to life, the discovery of water ice on the moon and Mars broadening our perceptions about the availability of water elsewhere, and the discovery of extra-solar planets over the last two decades (500 and counting) confirming that other planetary systems exist, we are seeking to understand answers to this question.

Yet in that quest we’ve had the opportunity to “turn the mirror on ourselves” and see the Earth for what it is: the lone speck in the universe (so far) that passes the Goldilock’s test: it’s just right for us.  One of the most iconic images of the space era is that of “Earthrise” over the lunar horizon during the Apollo 8 mission.  It shows the beautiful Earth, full of vibrance and color, framed by the velvety blackness of space and the harsh bleakness of the moon.  That image, and others like it, has been credited with giving rise to Earth Day and the subsequent green movement.

The fact that images from human spaceflight could give rise to whole movements begs the question: could saving the Earth become a value proposition for human spaceflight?

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Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 3: Science


Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.
–Edwin Hubble

 

In Parts 1 and 2, I covered Nationalism and Commerce as value propositions for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges for each that must be addressed to make each an enduring VP.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 3: Science.

 

Reason 3: Science.  Western civilization is replete with examples of undertaking grand efforts in the name of science.  Unlike commerce, science is driven by the need to explore and understand the universe around us and how it works, regardless if it can be exploited immediately for economic reasons.  Great individual natural philosophers of the past have given way to today’s world of research teams supported by grants and Government funding.  Whether it is huge ground-based telescopes exploring the heavens, gigantic particle accelerators probing the fundamental laws of nature, or research laboratories seeking to expand human knowledge, modern science is a large endeavor, yet it is one of tremendous value.  Here’s why.

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Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 2: Commerce


Commerce changes the fate and genius of nations.
–Thomas Gray

 

In Part 1, I covered Nationalism as a value proposition for human spaceflight, and pointed out the challenges that must be addressed to make it an enduring one in a changing world.  Today I continue the examination on value propositions for human spaceflight in Part 2: Commerce.

 

Reason 2: Commerce.  The development of transportation infrastructure in the United States and commerce are inextricably linked.  The need to transport goods quickly, tying into existing waterways and reducing or eliminating over-land routes that were slow or non-existent, drove development of the canal system in the northeast by private interests in the early nineteenth century.  The same drive is what led to the subsequent ascendency of the railroads, again achieved mainly through private investment with minimal federal guidance.  As for aviation, one doesn’t have to go very far to point out the successes of the Wright Brothers, funded from their own sweat equity, versus the comparatively expensive and unsuccessful Government-backed Langley efforts at “heavier than air” travel.  Subsequent aviation was fueled by the airmail contract of the 1920s and 1930s, then by passenger service started in the 1930s, then “took off” following World War II and exploded in the 1970s following deregulation.  The National Highway System leveraged off the development of the automobile to transport goods and peoples to a wide ranges of destinations, plus provide Americans with a degree of mobility not available with any other form of transportation.  (That is, until we get the flying cars of the Jetsons.)

Historically, NASA has not played a strong role in commerce.  Instead, NASA has had a long history of technological developments that have been licensed to commercial companies.  These “spinoffs” have made their way into numerous products that many of us take for granted today, and yet the impact of NASA on the economy is one that the Agency continues to struggle to communicate.  So in that regard, NASA and commerce have been at best a second-order effect.

Until now.

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Human Spaceflight Directions, Part 1: Nationalism


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
–George Bernard Shaw

Author’s note: I’ve been invited to give a talk to a local astronomy club on “the direction the nation is heading on human spaceflight policy and where we ought to go.”  As you are aware if you are a regular reader of LeadingSpace, I’ve touched previously upon matters of vision (or lack thereof), leadership (or lack thereof), and the value equation as they pertain to human spaceflight.  This, in concert with ideas from the series written by Mary Lynne Dittmar on “An enduring value proposition for NASA human spaceflight” on The Space Review, led to the framework for this topic.  You’re going to get an advanced screening below, and I welcome your feedback in the comments area.  Because of the length, I am breaking into multiple parts.  Part 1 is below.

In making the case for the direction of human spaceflight, we’ve seen numerous attempts at articulating a vision directly, such as the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, or indirectly with the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget release a year ago and his subsequent speech at the Kennedy Space Center.  Each of these is a sound attempt at providing a basis of sorts for our domestic human spaceflight program, yet both seem to fail in a very fundamental way:  none truly address the why question.  The recent rhetoric from Washington that “there is a plan” also falls short of addressing the perception that with the end of the space shuttle program, human spaceflight is also over for the United States.

So, let’s advance the dialogue on this topic by addressing one simple question:  Why pursue a human spaceflight endeavor?

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Improved Interview Questions Every Change Agent Must Ask


“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

–Lou Holtz

A few days ago I read a post on Harvard Business Review entitled, “Interview Questions Every Change Agent Must Ask“.  The title caught my eye, so I took a look.  Here is the essence of the three questions suggested by the authors:

  1. What does the organization want to see changed over the next 12-18 months? Within this broad category, ask sub-questions about processes, technology, and company culture.
  2. What does the organization wish to preserve over the next 12-18 months? Again, ask about processes, technology, culture. Listen carefully to the responses for each, with an ear towards sorting the back-burner issues from “what makes us special” factors. If you don’t get a clear sense between what is “back burner” versus what “makes us special,” ask for clarity.
  3. What does the organization wish to avoid at all costs over the next 12-18 months? Every organization has its sacred cows. You may be told “There are no sacred cows. You will have carte blanche to change things as you see fit.” You should interpret that statement as, “We are not yet comfortable enough with you to discuss this issue. But we appreciate that you recognize it as an issue.”

I read through these questions and reflected upon my own dealings with change.  I saw some positives, yet I also saw something missing from these questions.

The positives: Answers will identify items around desires – what the organizations wishes to change or preserve.  This recognizes those items that have been thought about consciously one way or the other.

The negatives: Questions 2 and 3 seem to be asking the same thing, essentially.  They only differ in degree between what is to be preserved versus what is a sacred cow (also to be preserved; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a sacred cow). I didn’t see a question that explored the unconscious targets for change or preservation, or to identify “needs” separately from “wants.”

With this in mind, my list of questions keeps the first question in tact, and combines questions 2 and 3.  To this list I add a new third question.

  1. What does the organization want to see changed over the next 12-18 months? Within this broad category, ask sub-questions about processes, technology, and company culture.
  2. What does the organization wish to preserve or avoid at all cost over the next 12-18 months? Again, ask about processes, technology, culture. Listen carefully to the responses for each, with an ear towards sorting the back-burner issues from “what makes us special” factors and for sacred cows. If you don’t get a clear sense between what is “back burner” versus what “makes us special,” ask for clarity.  Listen for boundaries of what is not to be touched, or for what is not being said today.
  3. What key challenges does the organization face over the next 12-18 months? This is an opening to get at hot button topics that may be driving risk or underlying issues that have not been addressed.  It also separates the “want” responses for questions 1 and 2 from the “need” – what needs to be changed, and what needs to be preserved.

If you’re a change agent talking to a prospective organization about change, try these three questions.  After all, as Coach Holtz said, you won’t learn by talking; you’ll learn by asking questions.

Now that you’ve seen my list, what have I missed?

Text © 2011 Joe Williams
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/Biitly