Twenty Years Ago: The STS-63 Mission

STS-63 Plaque Hanging

(Plaque hanging ceremony following the end of Space Shuttle mission STS-63.  That’s me on the left.)

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of Space Shuttle mission STS-63. A few years ago I wrote a retrospective of that mission. It’s worth revisiting in light of the anniversary this week, and the significance of that mission to the short-term evolution of NASA’s human spaceflight endeavors.

With the return to flight in 1988 following the Challenger accident in 1986, NASA’s Space Shuttle missions were focused on the exploration of low Earth orbit. Numerous scientific missions were flown in the following years, consisting of laboratories in the Space Shuttle cargo bay or in satellites that were deployed and retrieved by the Space Shuttle. I cut my teeth in orbital rendezvous during this period, focusing on developing piloting procedures for flying the Space Shuttle and understanding its onboard guidance and navigation systems. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s we knew that eventually we would start construction of the space station. At the time, we didn’t know when.

The fall of the former Soviet Union played a key role in shifting US space policy and implementation in human spaceflight. The new Russia that emerged and the United States forged a cooperative space policy, one in which the United States would fly Russian cosmonauts onboard the Space Shuttle, and Russia would host US astronauts onboard its second generation space station, Mir. STS-63 marked the first mission of the Space Shuttle to Mir, executing a “dress rehearsal” of the rendezvous and docking of the two spacecraft. Building relationships between former adversaries was a big challenge and a quantum shift in how one viewed the future of human spaceflight. Rather than individual nationalistic efforts, the Shuttle-Mir program demonstrated that long-term international cooperative efforts are possible. Despite the huge CAGE distance between the United States and Russia, the program paved the way for the current International Space Station.

Shuttle-Mir

From a personal standpoint, it is rather remarkable that as an early-career engineer, I would get the opportunity to be in the forefront of overcoming obstacles, forging relationships, and demonstrating the incredible possibilities of international cooperative efforts in space – one that continues to this day. As I look back on this special anniversary of Space Shuttle mission STS-63, I see how far we’ve come. How far we go is up to us.

Twenty Years Ago: The STS-63 Mission

Six Years of Leading Space

Hard to believe I started LeadingSpace six years ago this month. Time flies.

Looking over the history of LeadingSpace and its 180 articles to date, I note that my writing focus has shifted with time, with several distinct phases. When I started LeadingSpace in 2009, I was leading a team of professionals charged with figuring out a strategy on how to keep two of NASA’s key facilities operating with the impending end of the Space Shuttle Program. I chose to use LeadingSpace as a vehicle to share my experiences in transitioning to a new leadership role, learning the specific situation at hand, and getting to know the people involved. In 2009 this was the primary focus of LeadingSpace, with an occasional new contribution since. The topic of Team Leadership marks the first phase of LeadingSpace.

Hints in late 2009 of changes to come in human spaceflight policy were unveiled in early 2010 with the cancellation of the Constellation Program, leading to uncertainty and debates over space policy and implementation. Some of that initial uncertainty spilled over into my work life. Consequently, much of the focus of my writing shifted from team leadership situations into dealing with change.

One of the key pieces I wrote during this time was a major multi-part treatise on the value proposition for human spaceflight, where I attempted to define a framework for conversing about its future:

Leading change and defining a value proposition for human spaceflight mark the second phase of LeadingSpace.

Starting in 2012, with my personal focus directed towards working on an Executive MBA under a two-year fellowship, I wrote a bit less. I tended to post quick blurbs on current topics. Towards the end of the two-year sabbatical I wrote a few pieces applying some of the operations management and federal budgeting principles I learned in the EMBA program.

I also shared a major multi-part treatise on elements of strategy that must be considered for the future of human spaceflight, based on a term paper I wrote for a Strategic Management class.

Thus we come to the end of third phase.

What will the future hold for LeadingSpace? It could be many things, and I have a lot of options. An ambitious project I have on my to-do list is to meld the human spaceflight value proposition series with the Strategizing for NASA series. Also, judging by pageviews the Transactional, Transitional, and Transformational Change post is by far the most popular piece I’ve written. Perhaps that indicates a hunger for information on dealing with change. I’m also drawn to matters of strategy in a broader context than human spaceflight, such as the recent decision by Target to exit the Canadian market. I have a draft post written on that. I also could return to the roots of LeadingSpace and write about my current experiences in a new role, which today deal with building a supply web of data and processes for planning, training, and executing NASA’s future Exploration missions. This would entail an interesting topical mix of influence leadership, operations management, and federal budgeting.

In other words, the future looks very promising for LeadingSpace. I hope you don’t mind that I take you where the wind blows.

Most of all, thank you for reading.

 

Six Years of Leading Space

2014 in Review

Many thanks to the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys, who prepared a 2014 annual report for Leading Space.  Here’s to a fabulous ’15!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

2014 in Review

Exploration Flight Test-1

EFT-1_mission_diagram

NASA’s next generation human spaceflight vehicle, Orion, is scheduled for its first flight test next week on Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). The un-crewed test flight of Orion is scheduled for launch on Thursday, December 4 within a two-hour launch window that opens at 7:05 AM EST, with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about four hours later.

This flight will mark the furthest distance from Earth flown by a human spaceflight vehicle since Apollo 17 in 1972.

For more information on EFT-1 and Orion:

On a personal note, my newest assignment is tied to the human deep-space missions following EFT-1. I’ve been assigned as a core member to the integration task team within NASA that is defining the objectives for our future human deep space missions, and coordinating those objectives across the Agency. I’m also building the “supply chain” of data needed to implement those objectives in mission planning, astronaut training, and mission execution from Mission Control in Houston. I’m looking forward to EFT-1 and the challenges to come as we move forward on human spaceflight.

Exploration Flight Test-1

LED Versus Incandescent Bulbs (An Update)

In the post, LED vs. Incandescent Bulbs, I made the following case: that for high-usage incandescent bulbs, it makes sense to replace those bulbs with LED bulbs, because the cost of the bulb (the “fixed cost”) is more than covered by the savings in electricity (the “variable cost”). I also stated my intent to start replacing the BR-30 incandescent bulbs in my kitchen with LED equivalents once they started burning out.

That event happened two weeks ago. I had a BR-30 incandescent bulb burn out in the kitchen.  I also noted as part of Halloween preparation that I had two burned-out BR-30 incandescent bulbs on the front porch. Therefore, I decided to replace all five bulbs in the kitchen with LED bulbs, and use two of the four remaining incandescent bulbs from the kitchen to replace the two burned-out bulbs on the front porch, with two spares. However, when I visited amazon.com to purchase the Philips BR-30 bulbs I found earlier this year for 19.95 each, I couldn’t find them listed. Bummer.

Later that week, on a separate errand to Home Depot, I looked through the lighting section to see what was available. Here is what I found:

Philips SlimStyle 65W-equivalent BR-30 soft white bulb, 9.5 W, 650 lumens, 2700 K

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Philips-SlimStyle-65W-Equivalent-Soft-White-2700K-BR30-Dimmable-LED-Light-Bulb-452383/205337959

It was listed for $14.97 – a better price than the bulb I found earlier this year on amazon.com, and one whose brightness (650 lumens) and color spectrum (2700 K) are even closer to those of the incandescent bulbs I have. Because the fixed price of the Home Depot bulb is $5 less than the earlier LED bulb and the power draw is 1 W less, these shift the economics even more favorably for the LEB bulb versus an incandescent bulb. Here’s how.

At 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, the breakeven for the earlier LED bulb versus an incandescent bulb occurs at 2692 hours of operation, as I mentioned in the earlier post. At the same price for electricity, the breakeven for the LED bulb from Home Depot occurs even sooner – at 1892 hours of operation. Beyond that point, the LED bulb is more cost effective than an incandescent bulb.

LED Update 1

The improvement of the Home Depot LED bulb versus the earlier LED bulb is due to two factors: (1) the lower fixed price – $19.95 for the earlier LED bulb versus $14.95 for the LED bulb from Home Depot, which lowers the “starting point” for the total cost line; and (2) the lower variable cost – the bulb from Home Depot draws 9.5 W versus 10.5 W for the earlier bulb, which lowers the slope slightly versus the equivalent line for the earlier bulb. (The earlier bulb results are not shown, but you can see them in the earlier post.) These two factors combine to reduce the number of hours necessary to reach the breakeven point.

Just as a reminder, the longer-term trend is again in favor of the LED bulb. Something I mentioned in the original post, but failed to highlight sufficiently, is that the longer-term trend of the incandescent bulb is far dominated by the cost of electricity and not in the replacement cost of the bulb. What this means is that in the longer trend it doesn’t matter if you are unlucky and your incandescent bulb burns out after 100 hours, or if you are extremely lucky and your incandescent bulb never burns out – the cost is dominated by the cost of electricity. You can tell this by the plot, where the upward “zag,” indicating a new incandescent bulb purchase, is so small c the upward slope of the line, representing the cost of electricity.

LED Update 2

From an economic standpoint, the fundamental question remains this:  Will I operate my BR30 incandescent bulb long enough to where I’ll exceed 1892 hours of lifetime operation? If the answer is yes, buy an equivalent LED bulb.

If the earlier post caught your interest, hopefully this updated analysis will inspire you even further.

By the way, I replaced the bulbs in the kitchen last week.  After a solid week of operation, I notice no difference in brightness and light quality of the LED bulbs versus the incandescent bulbs they replaced. And I didn’t expect a difference – the color spectrum is the same (2700 K, the soft white lighting I prefer) and the brightness is essentially the same (650 lumens). I’m very pleased, and I’m sure my wallet will be pleased with the decreased cost in electricity I will start seeing.

LED Versus Incandescent Bulbs (An Update)

Strategizing for NASA, Part 8: Conclusion

After reading the National Research Council (NRC) report on the future of human spaceflight, “Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration,” I was motivated to explore key questions about strategy. In writing this series, I introduced a sampling of basic elements of strategy that need to be brought to the forefront and discussed:

  • Competitive advantage can erode, even for government monopolies. In part, this is driven by inertia and in part by the changing competitive landscape of an industry as viewed through competitive forces.
  • Enduring, strategic resources exist. These resources are unique, durable, appropriated, non-substitutable, and clearly superior. The most enduring strategic resources contain more of these characteristics than those that are less enduring.
  • Wiring innovation into an organization also requires fundamental restructuring of the organization. Investing in innovation without leadership support, on the periphery, or hoping for spontaneous innovation that somehow percolates into revolutionary products and services, is not a recipe for a successful strategy.
  • Inertial effects and the sense of loss with strategic change are powerful resistive forces to change. They require a concerted effort by leadership to overcome.
  • Reputation and culture can be valuable strategic resources. Those that contain value do not arrive overnight, but instead are cultivated through time and the deliberate nurturing by its leadership.
  • International distance is more than physical distance. Culture, political/administrative, other geographic and economic differences can drive distance between potential international partnership pairs. One must formulate strategy to counteract and mitigate the distance effect in as many dimensions as possible – the more, the better.
  • Strong leadership is needed to evolve strategy with the waves of technological advance; failure to do so leads the organization to obsolescence.

It is my assertion that any meaningful strategy for human spaceflight must address these issues at a minimum, or else face the consequences addressed in each.

Finally, to tie the above together, I’ll make an analogy between a strategic tool as a melody, and the combination of those tools as an orchestral arrangement. My bookshelf is full of melodies, whether it is Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation, or Collins’s Good to Great, each of which offers an insight into what constitutes a successful strategy for an organization. And yes, I find each of them compelling in a way, whether it is the disruptive forces proposed by Christensen, or the name recognition of successful companies with lasting strategies offered by Collins. Yet my key takeaway from writing this series is that not any one tool is sufficient to explain what makes a strategy successful. Instead, it is the richness of the full orchestral arrangement of tools that brings beauty to strategy. A Porter Five Forces analysis can paint the landscape of an industry. An RBV analysis can give an indication as to why certain strategic resources are enduring. A CAGE analysis can indicate the distance effects that must be addressed. And so on. We need them all, in combination, to make the beautiful music of a successful strategy for human spaceflight.

The entire series:
Part 1: The United States Postal Service and the Porter Five Forces
Part 2: Disney and the Resources Based View
Part 3: DARPA, Kodak, and Wiring Innovation
Part 4: The FBI and Transformational Change
Part 5: Veridian and the Role of Reputation and Culture
Part 6: Walmart in China and CAGE Differences
Part 7: Apple and Counteracting the Forces of Technological Obsolescence

Strategizing for NASA, Part 8: Conclusion

Strategizing for NASA, Part 7: Apple and Counteracting the Forces of Technological Obsolescence

The birth, near-death, and comeback of Apple is a topic of interest for a variety of reasons. Whether it is the leadership style of Steve Jobs, or the development of a lock-in model that increases the willingness to pay on the part of consumers, Apple is a rich, fertile ground for exploring a variety of business case studies. Today’s examination of strategy covers none of these. Instead, today’s focus is on technology, its evolution, and the difficulty of keeping pace in today’s world – with Apple as a key example. This examination of technological obsolescence has a direct implication to a future strategy for human spaceflight.

A 2012 case study1 of Apple examined the waves of technology generation that occur with time, and observed how extremely difficult it is to maintain a strategic advantage from generation to generation. Apple succeeded early with one of the first commercially available computers with a graphical user interface targeted for the consumer in the mid-1980’s, then rapidly lost ground to the highly successful Wintel duopoly of the mid-1990’s through early 2000’s. Today, the Wintel duopoly is struggling with the latest wave in computing – mobile – whereas Apple is succeeding with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. As for the next wave of technology, is wearable computing next? Who will succeed, and who will fail? The answer to that question is tied strategy; the conclusion drawn from the Apple experience is that those who evolve strategy to ride the next wave are more likely to succeed than those who do not.

In considering waves of technology evolution and human spaceflight, there are numerous examples to explore. One such example is the Mission Control Center complex in Houston. Built in the mid-1960’s, it contained state-of-the-art command, control, and computational capabilities for its time, and remained near the forefront of those capabilities for almost 30 years. That’s how advanced it was for its time. But times have changed. Instead of leading, most of the capabilities available today in it and other similar Government-provided command, control, and computational facilities often lag the current “state-of-the-art.” This is due to a variety of causes: large fixed cost investments constrained by tight budgets, lengthy procurement cycles, and general bureaucracy. (An example of the latter is compliance with Section 516 of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, Public Law 113-6, which prohibits the purchase of information technology from any firms with ties to China.) The change of position relative to technology in this example is not due to any fault of the dedicated workers. Instead, it’s a sign that it is extremely difficult to keep pace with the rapid advancement of technology and waves of technological obsolescence under the current strategic framework.

The key point is this: it is critical for an organization to recognize that whatever constitutes strategic advantage will eventually change. Strategy, to remain successful and relevant, must evolve with the waves of technological advance. Applied to human spaceflight at NASA, it is fair to assert that leaders must lead the way for evolving the human spaceflight strategy at NASA to push it to the technological forefront. Failure to develop a strategic direction to counteract the forces of technological obsolescence may lead to obsolescence of the organization itself.

Next Time: Conclusion

Previous entries in this series:
Part 1: The United States Postal Service and the Porter Five Forces
Part 2: Disney and the Resources Based View
Part 3: DARPA, Kodak, and Wiring Innovation
Part 4: The FBI and Transformational Change
Part 5: Veridian and the Role of Reputation and Culture
Part 6: Walmart in China and CAGE Differences

 


1Rossano, P. & Yoffie, D. (August 14, 2012). Apple, Inc. in 2012. HBS 9-712-490. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

Strategizing for NASA, Part 7: Apple and Counteracting the Forces of Technological Obsolescence