The conversations concerning the human spaceflight policy continue to be more about heat than light. This was mentioned recently in “This Week in Space” with Miles O’Brien in an interview with Andy Chaikin. Andy said something similar – there is a lot of heat and very little light regarding the conversations surrounding the space policy. What does this mean, and how do we move forward to implement a meaningful and affordable approach to human spaceflight?
Because I mostly write about space from a leadership standpoint, I’ll use that perspective again today. Some of what I’m going to offer is quite obvious; however, as Scott Eblin pointed out recently, what doesn’t get said doesn’t get heard. Therefore, I’m going to err on the side of redundancy and state the obvious. What should we as leaders in the space community do to start generating light instead of heat?
1. Focus on the solution instead of the problem. For this, we need to be mindful of our near-term goal, which I offer here: Attain the approval from Congress of a sustainable plan for human spaceflight. Work with Congress and key stakeholders to build a plan. Factor into it whatever is necessary to gain approval and for the plan to be sustainable, realizing that such an approach must encompass technical, budgetary, workforce, and political realities. I see all those who argue ad naseum over the rationale behind a particular approach over another as focusing on the problem rather than the solution. It’s time for the leadership to take the best elements from the President’s proposed space policy and build a plan that will gain the approval of Congress. It’s a simple as that, and it’s as hard as that.
2. Build coalitions instead of adversaries. Much of the heat surrounding the conversation concerning the future for human spaceflight policy attempts to posture into two camps – either you are for the President’s space policy, or you are against it, with each side attempting to belittle the other. To listen to some of the conversation, there is no middle ground – it’s all or nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way forward is something in between. The role of leadership is to find the path to that middle ground so that we can reach out and build the coalitions with all the key stakeholders necessary to craft a credible way forward for human spaceflight. There are no winners or losers here – there is the future of human spaceflight, and that’s it.
3. Seek results instead of blame. There are quite a few, mostly on the outside, who seek to lay blame with one aspect or another for the current situation in human spaceflight: it’s NASA’s fault, it’s former Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley’s fault, it’s Congress’s fault, it’s the President’s fault… and so on. Who’s to blame is completely irrelevant to moving forward. Instead, the role of leadership is to build alignment around a unifying vision, and define the actions necessary to achieve the results desired. There is no need for the blame game here at all.
Focusing on the problems, dividing into opposing camps, and seeking blame are the signs of heat. Instead, reach for the light: focus on the solution, build coalitions, and seek results.
What have I missed? What else do you see as the role of leadership to drive towards the light?