“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”
–T. S. Eliot

It’s nearly the end of 2010, and also I’m also approaching 100 posts on Leading Space.  I find it quite amazing that an experiment in transitioning from private journaling to public blogging has lasted for two years.  I’m proud of that.  Because of the confluence of the end-of-the-year with the magic number of 100 posts, I was originally going to emulate others on the interwebs and write a retrospective on my top posts of the year. (Cut to the chase: they are Transactional, Transitional, and Transformational Change, Building and Leading Teams Through Conation and the Kolbe Model, and The Crisis Cycle.)  What I found more interesting and surprising was reading the nearly 100 entries over two years, and looking for my voice in my writing.

I looked, and grew worried.

What brought this topic to mind was the quote above and some blog browsing I did yesterday.  In particular, I ran across some simply amazing writing at Read through a few of the posts and tell me you don’t detect a distinct voice…  I sure do.  I was compelled to read more, not in a voyeuristic way (OK, well, maybe a little) as much as I was drawn in by the stories that cried authenticity and transparency in a personal way.  To read the posts is to get the picture that the author really knows herself, expressed through her passion for writing.

(You’re a fabulous writer, Wendy, and I look forward to reading your many books someday.)

I wondered – do my posts speak of similar authenticity and transparency about who I am and why I do the things I do?  Does my passion come through?  After all, those were the reasons why I transitioned from private journaling to public blogging in the first place.

My conclusion: not to the extent I’d like.

Sure, I’d like to blame the nature of the work I do at NASA as to why I’m not seeing more of my true voice coming through, so I will in part.  In my role leading the development and implementation of contract strategies for the work here in NASA’s mission operations in Houston, much of the work product I lead gets tagged with ominous labels such as “NASA PRE-DECISIONAL INFORMATION: SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED – SEE NPR 1600.1” (as if you know what “NPR 1600.1” even means), or “SOURCE SELECTION INFORMATION – SEE FAR 2.101 AND 3.104” (ditto for FAR 2.101 and 3.104).  Frankly, I deal daily with the fear that if I told you what I really thought, I’ll let slip some piece of information that would violate one or the other.  Neither would land me in jail (I think); however, the ethical breach and loss of integrity for violating stewardship of the American taxpayers dollars that could result would be unbearable to me, as would the impact to my pocketbook in potential fines (and don’t you believe for a minute that I and my fellow Government employees are overpaid – no way.)  This year saw less of the above and more of a focus on space policy, as we watched the Constellation Program get canceled by the President in February and the aftermath play out in Congress.  Sure, I wrote a little about my views on space policy, yet even there I held back.  Why – out of respect for the involved leadership?  Please.  If there ever was an example on how NOT to lead change, it was demonstrated this year by how the new human spaceflight policy was poorly rolled out and mismanaged by the White House, Congress, and top NASA leadership.  Then why?

At this moment, I don’t know, and that is the other part.

As a start to answering this question, I’m taken back to writing in high school.  Frankly, I hated it.  I found it so formulaic and forced and stifling that I hated it with a passion, which spilled over into a general dislike for literature at the time.  I lived on Cliff’s Notes and copying others’ ideas.  Yet underneath that dislike was a passion for sharing that was simmering, waiting to be unleashed.  I saw a glimmer of it when freed of the bounds of structured writing in college.  In a college composition class, I excelled.  I wrote about whatever interested me, and I always wrote at the last minute, pulling all-nighters and having nothing in mind except a general idea.  It worked fabulously.  The professor regularly read my work to the class, and heck – I even got the good grades to show for it to match those normally reserved for math and science.

The glimmers I see today are that nearly every one of my blog posts are written in one sitting, with minimal editing, and are inspired by the confluence of recent events in human spaceflight and the works of others that helped me understand those events in the leadership context.  (My favorites in this regard are Holly G. Green, Scott Eblin, and Joan Koerber-Walker.)  The next step for me is to realize fully who I am and allow my passion to come through as I write – less about events in some antiseptic way, and more about what I think and how I feel about them.  NASA, human spaceflight, and leadership together is one of those rare combinations that actually interests some people, so I do have an unusual pulpit as an insider in such an inspirational area, yet one that is counterbalanced with the crushing weight of Government bureaucracy and inertia.  Yin and yang.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Join me as I explore another voice – a truer voice – in 2011.


NASA Strategic Plan 2011

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
–Yogi Bera

Last week, my colleagues across the agency and I received an email from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden sharing highlights from the new NASA strategic plan nearing final release in early 2011.  Here is an outline.

– NASA Strategic Plan 2011 Highlights –

Vision: NASA leads scientific and technological advances in aeronautics and space for a Nation on the frontier of discovery.

Mission: Drive advances in science, technology, and exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of the Earth.

Goal 1:  Extend and sustain human activities across the solar system.

1.1     Sustain the operation and full use of the International Space Station and expand efforts to utilize the ISS as a national lab for scientific, technological, diplomatic, and educational purposes and support future objectives in human space exploration.

1.2     Develop competitive opportunities for the commercial community to provide best value products and services to Low Earth Orbit and beyond.

1.3     Conduct robotic missions to scout destinations, find resources, and lower risk for future human exploration.

1.4     Develop an integrated architecture and capabilities for safe crewed and cargo missions beyond Low Earth Orbit.

Goal 2:  Expand scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe in which we live.

2.1     Advance Earth System Science to meet the challenges of climate and environmental change.

2.2     Understand the Sun and its interactions with the Earth and the solar system.

2.3     Ascertain the content, origin and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere.

2.4     Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for Earth-like planets.

Goal 3:  Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science, and economic future.

3.1     Sponsor early stage innovation in space technologies in order to improve the future capabilities of NASA, other government agencies, and the aerospace industry.

3.2     Infuse game-changing and cross-cutting technologies throughout the nation’s space enterprise, to transform the nation’s space mission capabilities.

3.3     Develop and demonstrate the critical technologies that will make NASA’s exploration, science, and discovery missions more affordable and more capable.

3.4     Facilitate the transfer of NASA technology and engage in partnerships with other government Agencies, industry, and international entities to generate U.S. commercial activity and other public benefits.

Goal 4:  Advance aeronautics research for societal benefit.

4.1    Develop innovative solutions and advanced technologies through a balanced research portfolio to improve current and future air transportation.

4.2   Conduct systems-level research on innovative and promising aeronautics concepts and technologies to demonstrate integrated capabilities and benefits in a relevant flight and/or ground environment.

Goal 5:  Enable program and institutional capabilities to conduct NASA’s aeronautics and space activities.

5.1     Identify, cultivate, and sustain a diverse workforce and inclusive work environment that is needed to conduct NASA missions.

5.2     Ensure vital assets are ready, available, and appropriately sized to conduct NASA’s missions.

5.3     Ensure the availability to the Nation of NASA-owned strategically important test capabilities.

5.4     Implement and provide space communications and launch capabilities responsive to existing and future science and space exploration missions.

5.5     Establish partnerships, including innovative arrangements, with commercial, international, and other government entities to maximize mission success.

Goal 6:  Share NASA with the public, educators, and students to provide opportunities to participate in our mission, foster innovation and contribute to a strong National economy.

6.1     Improve retention of students in STEM disciplines by providing opportunities and activities along the full length of the education pipeline.

6.2     Promote STEM literacy through strategic partnerships with formal and informal organizations.

6.3     Engage the public in NASA’s missions by providing new pathways for participation.

6.4    Inform, engage and inspire the public by sharing NASA’s missions, challenges, and results.

The previous NASA strategic plan was released in early 2006 and reflected NASA’s direction following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia.  A number of the items in the 2006 plan have come to pass, are nearing fruition or have been overcome by events.

– NASA Strategic Plan 2006 Highlights –

Vision:  To advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.  (See the Vision for Space Exploration.)

Mission: To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

Strategic Goal 1: Fly the Shuttle as safely as possible until its retirement, not later than 2010.

1.1. Assure the safety and integrity of the Space Shuttle work- force, systems and processes, while flying the manifest.

1.2. By September 30, 2010, retire the Space Shuttle.

Strategic Goal 2: Complete the International Space Station in a manner consistent with NASA’s International partner commitments and the needs of human exploration.

2.1. By 2010, complete assembly of the U.S. On-orbit Segment; launch International Partner elements and sparing items required to be launched by the Shuttle; and provide on-orbit resources for research to support U.S. human space exploration.

2.2. By 2009, provide the on-orbit capability to support an ISS crew of six crewmembers.

Strategic Goal 3: Develop a balanced overall program of science, exploration, and aeronautics consistent with the redirection of the human spaceflight program to focus on exploration.

Sub-goal 3A: Study Earth from space to advance scientific understanding and meet societal needs.

Sub-goal 3B: Understand the Sun and its effects on Earth and the solar system.

Sub-goal 3C: Advance scientific knowledge of the solar system, search for evidence of life, and prepare for human exploration.

Sub-goal 3D: Discover the origin, structure, evolution, and destiny of the universe, and search for Earth-like planets.

Sub-goal 3E: Advance knowledge in the fundamental disciplines of aeronautics, and develop technologies for safer aircraft and higher capacity airspace systems.

Sub-goal 3F: Understand the effects of the space environment on human performance, and test new technologies and countermeasures for long-duration human space exploration.

Strategic Goal 4: Bring a new Crew Exploration Vehicle into service as soon as possible after Shuttle retirement.

4.1. No later than 2014, and as early as 2010, transport three crewmembers to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth, demonstrating an operational capability to support human exploration missions.

4.2. No later than 2014, and as early as 2010, develop and deploy a new space suit to support exploration, that will be used in the initial operating capability of the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Strategic Goal 5: Encourage the pursuit of appropriate partnerships with the emerging commercial space sector.

5.1. Develop and demonstrate a means for NASA to purchase launch services from emerging launch providers.

5.2. By 2010, demonstrate one or more commercial space services for ISS cargo and/or crew transport.

5.3. By 2012, complete one or more prize competitions for independently designed, developed, launched, and operated missions related to space science or space exploration.

Strategic Goal 6: Establish a lunar return program having the maximum possible utility for later missions to Mars and other destinations.

6.1. By 2008, launch a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that will provide information about potential human exploration sites.

6.2. By 2012, develop and test technologies for in-situ resource utilization, power generation, and autonomous systems that reduce consumables launched from Earth and moderate mission risk.

6.3. By 2010, identify and conduct long-term research necessary to develop nuclear technologies essential to support human-robotic lunar missions and that are extensible to exploration of Mars.

6.4. Implement the space communications and navigation architecture responsive to Science and Exploration mission requirements.

What similarities to you see between the two strategic plans?  Key differences?


Update February 14, 2011. The NASA Strategic Plan has been released.  Get it here.

NASA Strategic Plan 2011

A New Challenge

“The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution”
–Bertrand Russell

About this time last year I was kicking off a team to begin a strategic planning effort for future contracts needed by mission operations in Houston.  The changes in human spaceflight policy, first unveiled publically with the President’s budget on February 1, re-vectored that activity into a very short-term tactical planning effort.  As 2010 draws to a close, the tactical planning effort has served its intended purpose, and once again the time has come to examine the case for a longer-range strategic plan to move mission operations towards the future.  In other words, I’m seeking a way to state the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

I’m sure that many of you reading Leading Space have faced uncertainty and ambiguity in your own areas, yet you’ve decided ahead of time, or realized after the fact, that neither is a valid basis for choosing not to move ahead.  Likewise, we’ve bought some time while the new human spaceflight policy runs through its process involving the White House and Congress, with the only remaining piece left is to attain passage of appropriations in line with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.  Even with that key remaining piece left to do, and despite the threat of a full-year continuing resolution hanging in the air, I find myself in a position to influence an important decision: how can we move forward?

In recent days I’ve read two different blog posts that have reinforced my resolve to state the problem in a way that will allow the team to take action, to move ahead.  The first, “How Much Trouble is the Economy Really In?” by Joan Koerber-Walker, makes a very strong case that, even in the current uncertain climate, one can still manage risk and opportunity based on research, realignment, response, revisiting, and repeating the cycle.  The second, “How to Drive Change with a Leadership Point of View” by Scott Eblin, mentions that a reality-based leadership point-of-view grounded in observable facts and trends that can be projected into the future is of better utility than a vague, fuzzy idea of the future.

I’m still digesting these.  I see the beginnings of the road to a solution based upon research, creating new ideas (i.e., realigning) based upon projecting trends, and towards the end bounding the risk based upon known unknowns and educated guesses about the unknown unknowns.  I still have the luxury of time with the coming holidays, and certainly welcome any ideas you may have.

What would you do to move ahead?

A New Challenge