Peaks and Valleys


Usually I focus on the future direction of the agency, but this week I want to acknowledge the current environment and the challenges facing our workforce during this time of transition.  Earlier this month the NASA Administrator informed congress of the agency’s plan to inform the Constellation contractor community of the action required to prepare for termination costs to be incurred in the next fiscal year.  Yes, I know.  What does that mean in English?  The bottom line is that some of our friends in the aerospace community are being laid off.


Sure, I could sugar coat it with a string of buzz words.  The truth of the matter is that families are being impacted as the agency goes through a period of transformation.  Outstanding engineers are going to work wondering if a letter is waiting for them when they arrive at the office or when they get home.  No matter the industry you are in, having friends who are worried about their own future and how they will provide for their families makes for a tense environment.  Yet, to the credit of these outstanding employees they are giving 110% in the midst of all of the uncertainty.  Once again my hat goes off to the amazing dedicated team that gives so much to our national space program.


For those of us who will be able to carry on the dream of “boldly going where no one has gone before” let me offer the above  image from Pat Rawlings.  It is a perfect metaphor for the position that the agency currently finds itself and at the same time reminds us of the destination that the President asked us to reach in the mid 2035 time frame.  In the image above you have an astronaut descending down into the unknown valley.  You can’t see the bottom of the valley.  Instead you can see the peak in the distance that the other astronaut is scouting out.  You get the feeling that she is taking one final look at the destination that they are planning to reach.  Trying to hold that image in her mind as a reminder of where she needs to go once she descends with her colleague into the valley. 


NASA is about to enter that valley.  It is leaving a peak of human exploration with three large programs (Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation) and is descending into a valley where a lot of uncertainty resides.  It reminds me of a scenario planning exercise that we had conducted about 3 years ago where the facilitator shared the story of IBM’s turnaround by Lou Gerstner.  He used the same metaphor but added one additional component to the analogy.  The challenge in most companies is that they want to go from Peak to Peak without descending into the valley.  They are looking for continual growth without ever having to go back down to regroup and prepare to climb an even higher peak.  Yet those that are willing to navigate the valley and keep their vision on the next peak (even when it might not be visible) will be able to reach higher ground.  Another great discussion on this concept is found in Spencer Johnson’s, Peak and Valleys. 


Now, back to Pat’s image.  There is something subtle that is implied in the image.  The key to their success lies in the leader clearly identifying the peak/destination that the team will follow.  It takes leadership to help the rest of the team see their destination during those times when it may not be obviously visible.  Without the leadership’s vision it is easy to get stuck and lost in the valley.  Luckily NASA is working hard to define that next peak before we enter the valley.  One such activity is the Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) that is working to clarify the path to the destinations that the President articulated on April 15th (human mission to an asteroid in the 2025 timeframe and to Mars in the 2035 timeframe).  The products due from the team this summer will give NASA a path through the uncertainty that looms ahead of us. 


Shortly after the Apollo missions, NASA was pushed to reinvent itself after we lost a portion of our workforce.  Coming out of that period we created the most incredible spacecrafts in the world, the Space Shuttle fleet.  We did it once and knowing my fellow colleagues we will do it again. I for one can’t wait to see the new heights that NASA will reach after it passes through this time of transition.


Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

19 thoughts on “Peaks and Valleys”

  1. While the Space Shuttles are very impressive piece of equipment, the fleet still isn’t as impressive to me as the Saturn V. It’s a hard act to follow, and if you ask me, we’re yet to top it. I truly want to see a greater vehicle and set of achievements emerge, and I sincerely hope greater things are accomplished by that metaphorical trip into the unknown valley.

  2. Steve,
    My sympathies are with the people who are not currently with you or lost in the mission specially in this project and with this hope president/congress of US could approve the entire requirement of this project.
    We preach technology for free
    a free site for student to learn.

  3. Peaks are valleys in inversion.

    The vacuity is the essence of both in abyss, oxygen is the pression not oceanic but tornado or the steps of the superficial the certain form of the irony of inspiration.

    Not a tragedy of spontaneity but a corridor of vegetation, more like to assume that behind our nature it is something hidden.


    Or inside-outside, in the middle of a current of mysery and poetry I don’t know!

  4. Apollo was such a big program that its successful conclusion created a surplus of engineers which had adverse effects on the employment of engineers nationwide and also to those of us earning engineering degrees in the early 1970s. I was fortunate, but others, especially those who had studied in the aerospace field, had difficulty finding jobs.

    One lesson of Apollo and the current situation is that having a few large programs creates significant risk of the highly disruptive events you describe. In scientific and engineering work, program terminations are virtually certain whether or not success is achieved. In government, the long cycle time of the planning, programming, and budgeting process makes it very difficult to successfully dovetail the effort of one large program into another even when these programs succeed. So, a general strategy that avoids conducting a few large programs should minimize the likelihood future disruptive effects on your agency’s workforce.

  5. I have been a fan of the NASA space program since I was a child. In fact, I still have a set of original “souvenir” photo prints from the Apollo 11 moon landing. So even though I do not work for NASA, it saddens me to see programs winding down and some of our brightest and hardest people being laid off.

    As a person who provides continuing education (in a ), my thoughts often turn to profitability and efficiency for any endeavor. I wish that there was a group within NASA that could look at the potential of future missions from a financial perspective. Of course, care must be taken not to forge ahead and pollute or otherwise harm other environments, but there should be ways to make these programs self-funding (in the long term), either by licensing technology or finding other sources of valuable resources.

  6. I can’t beleive they stopped funding the space program in the states, finding live on another planet is the only way the human race can stay alive, with all the global warming and weapons of mass destruction brewing, Its only a matter of time.

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  11. Since I have been born in Florida,I think is inevitable not to be a fan of the NASA space program and everything related to it. And needless to say that till nowadays, everyone who works in that field has been for me a person of great reverence, because that is job,not everyone can do, just people with exceptional skills and knowledges. I hope that today this situation has been resolved and no more employees are being laid off.

  12. I never expected that even scientists will suffer by the same worries and problems, I believe that government should care for the science more, because this is our future…

  13. Well said! I have always been really interested on NASA’s projects. I really believe in the great future of NASA. I am impatient to read more about Gale Crater. The big rover of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, will land in August 2012 near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater, Mars.

  14. Mr Gingrich has some interesting ideas that would pick up where the appollo mission left off…

  15. These peaks and valleys are the evolutionary draft left over the due course of time. They speak a lot about the change happen with time and how this change can influence life on the planet. These peaks and valleys what we have today where created some millions of years back and speak out loud to say that they are too not permanent. Time will change in due course. This is the lesson one should take from nature.
    Vijeth Kumar

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