2010: Gotta Wear Shades!

Yes, I’m a glass half full kind of guy (and the only reason it is half full is because I already enjoyed the first half).  Recently I took a “change style indicator” assessment that captures a person’s preferred style in approaching change.  The range includes those that are Conservers, Pragmatists and Originators.  I was not surprised to find that I was way over on the Originator side, the side that is more comfortable with change. 

Therefore when I look at 2010 I am excited by the change that is ahead of us.  2010 ends one era, with the completion of the Shuttle program, making room for the next generation of space vehicles.  Yes, the Space Shuttle is an awesome vehicle.  Its capabilities are unmatched and it has served us well over the past 30 years and now it is time to extend our reach.  Now that we have our orbiting International laboratory, it is time to leverage it to enable us to reach new destinations like an asteroid, Lagrange points or even to the moons of Mars.  But it is not just the possibilities of a “flexible path” to extend humanity’s reach to Mars and beyond that is exciting about this coming year.  There are also other changes in the environment that marks us fully entering a new era in Space Exploration. 

This month we saw Richard Branson unveil his latest vehicle, the “Enterprise”, in the midst of a windstorm in California’s Mojave Desert.  The latest Enterprise vehicle is worthy of the name since it will be the first commercial vehicle to take more people closer to space.  We also will see this year the launch of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and get another step closer to commercial cargo access to the International Space Station.  Internationally we will see the first module of the Chinese Space Station, Shenzhou-8, being launched and connected in the future to Shenzhou-9.  Therefore soon we will have two orbiting laboratories in space and some speculate that this will also be an International Space Station with the partners including Iran, Pakistan and possibly North Korea.  Even though this partnership in space could cause some to be concerned, I am reminded of how NASA’s presence in space has created friends out of old enemies.  If it could happen before then I believe that space will allow us once again to create new alliances. Pollyanna?  I don’t think so.  The recent announcement of how NASA is inspiring Muslim students in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields through a collaboration with the Arab Youth Venture Foundation in Abu Dhabi is once again a demonstration of how the agency can bring the world together. In space there are no borders and NASA has continually demonstrated through its exploration programs and inspiration that it exists for the benefit of humanity. 

So get out your sun glasses because 2010 will be bright with the glow of humanity reaching collectively to the stars.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

How about NASA's Grand Challenge?

Last September the President laid out his Strategy for American Innovation. The strategy is broken into three parts:    

1.      Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation.

2.      Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship.

3.      Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities.

In the final section the President outlines eight “Grand Challenges” of the 21st Century.

The challenges are great.  I have a personal interest in the success of the first challenge to battle cancer and also like the idea of solar cells as cheap as paint or the “highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world” (can you say Babel fish).  Yet, as I read the Strategy for American Innovation I was struck with what missing from the strategy, NASA.  Other government agencies including the National Institute of Health, Department of Energy, and DARPA are mentioned but NASA is not found anywhere in the strategy.  Now I’m not going to try to comment on why NASA is not in the strategy but instead would like to propose an additional “Grand Challenge” that is worthy of American innovation and NASA expertise.


“Ensuring the sustainability of Life on Earth and in Space.”    For me these two are closely linked and can enable tremendous American innovation for the “benefit of all humanity.”  First of all space offers us a unique view of the Earth and allows us to understand how we are impacting the Earth’s environment.  The unique perspective from space has been focused on understanding but maybe part of ensuring sustainability of life on Earth should consider how we might help the Earth’s ecosystem from space.  I know this will sound farfetched but to help stretch your imagination, what if we used the vantage point of space to control the weather (hey, they did it in Back to the Future  J).  What if we could direct rain to drought stricken areas of the world or focus showers during the yearly fires that threaten the California coast?  Or as a friend shared recently, what if we could use position in space to decrease the eye of a hurricane?  We still have much to learn about the Earth from space, but maybe it is time to move from learning to proactive measures that are only possible from Space.


Secondly much is being written about the depletion of resources on the Earth, including fresh water and energy.  This same challenge is found in ensuring sustainability of life in Space.  There is no water authority in space where the astronauts can tap into for their “tang” (ok, bad pun).  Plus there is not a power grid that they plug into for their electricity.  In space we have to tap into the renewable energy from the sun and recycle the water in the International Space Station.  A grand challenge on the sustainability of life as it relates to renewable resources (beyond cheap solar cells) will have far reaching impacts to sustained human presence in space and benefit nations across the world.  For an interesting discussion on this grand challenge on the Earth side of the equation, I would recommend Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded”.  


Finally sustainability of life on Earth and Space requires advances in the delivery of medicine to remote locations.  In space there is not an emergency room or a 24 hour clinic that you can drive to on the weekend (I don’t know about your family but it seems that when our kids were young, they would always get sick on the weekends when the doctor’s office was closed).  We need to be able to ensure access to medical treatment as we get further and further away from the Earth.  While back on Earth there are millions who need access to medical treatment since to them the nearest hospital may seem to them like it is in Low Earth Orbit. 


Anyone up for a new “Grand Challenge”?


Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office


Creating the Future: One Giant Leap at a time

Last month the Advanced Planning Office pulled together a team to look at possible vision statements for the agency. I know a rather tall order, but it is always great to see the energy and creativity found within our JSC when it is unleashed. You can browse some of the ideas at the Open NASA post, NASA Vision and Mission. I know it isn’t really a vision statement, but the one phrase that has stuck with me is “Creating the Future: One Giant Leap at a time.” I really like the way it sums up the spirit of NASA and honors our past at the same time.

And the more that reflected on that phrase, the more I was struck by the recent events that demonstrated NASA’s role in taking these giant leaps. The most recent is LaserMotive LLC winning $900,000 in NASA’s 2009 Power Beaming Challenge. This one prize captures the imaginations of two communities and could seed a giant leap in either solar power beaming or a space elevator. LaserMotive won the prize by using a laser to power its robotic climber up a 900 meter cable that was suspended from a helicopter at Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, California. The climber reached the top in just over 4 minutes, for an average speed of 3.7 meters per second and later repeated the feat at of 3.9 meters per second. Then on October 30th, Masten Space Systems won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. What is great about this joint prize between NASA and the X PRIZE Foundation is the community it is creating. I love the quote from Masten Space System’s CEO, David Masten, “To come from not flying at all last year to qualifying for level one AND level two of the LLC this year shows how far our technology has progressed.” Mark another one in the win column for NASA’s ability to spur on Commercial Space.

Yet, what more can we do to take a giant leap forward. Could we partner with Japan on their plans to construct a solar power station in space and use it to beam energy down to Earth using lasers? Or do we build a space only cruiser? What would a space cruiser look like if it never needed to fight the gravity to get off the Earth or a planetary destination? Or is it too farfetched to create a prize for a non-rocket vehicle for access to LEO? While Commercial Space companies are investing in low cost access to Low Earth Orbit using rocket’s should NASA partner up to create a prize that will look at the physics for the next LEAP forward in access to space?

OK, I have to say it… I’ll even settle for a WARP drive X Prize.

So what prize would you create to make the next LEAP forward?

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Challenge Everything

There is an interesting experiment happening at the Johnson Space Center.  The basic question being addressed by this experiment is “what would happen if we could tap into the expertise of the 15,000 employees at JSC to solve any one of the difficult challenges that we are wrestling with?”   Actually the experiment is also tapping the expertise at the other NASA Centers.  The idea was a brainchild of the JSC Vision 2028 team and the Center Director’s, Inclusion and Innovation council engagement teams.  Called Project Blue Moon, it is a six month pilot to create an open collaboration environment across the NASA Community.

I know been there, done that.  I know the outside has been making use of open collaboration environments for years.  Yes I know all about open source and the strides it made in operating systems development.  And yes, open collaboration is normally wide open and engages expertise outside of a company.  Yet given all of that the interesting part of the experiment is the focus on the potentially untapped talent within OUR OWN community.  The potential to find a solution in the most unlikely of places within NASA or tapping into the limitless passion of our community to contribute to the NASA mission.  Two stories come to mind when I think of the possibilities of this experiment.  The first is the legendary tale of the janitor at KSC who was asked what was he doing and his response was “I am helping to put a man on the moon.”  He was passionate about what he was doing and understood the linkage between what he was doing and the mission of the agency.  But what if he had other expertise?  What if he loved to tinker on his time off and was given the opportunity to play around with one of the challenges of that time?  Imagine if his passion could be directed to leverage some of his hidden talents and experiences?  The second story was one that was shared with me about a couple of guys that wanted to take pictures of space. They solved their challenge with the most unlikely set of equipment.  What is great is that I would never have thought of their solution.  They came at the problem from a completely different angle.


As with any organization we are great at tapping into our “community of practice.”  We know the experts and we are able to obtain innovative solutions from these experts.  The JSC experiment though challenges everyone to also look for creative solutions outside of your discipline.  Maybe there are outstanding ideas that are only apparent from another discipline across the center or across the Agency.  Maybe there is a robotic solution from JPL that would support a problem that we are grappling with in human exploration.  Our community is filled with individuals who have moved from their original area of expertise and yet they would welcome the opportunity to offer up ideas for challenges in their old disciplines.  We have employees that have hobbies, workshops at home and interests that keep them abreast of the latest innovations that are not being taped.  The Blue Moon project is trying to tap into this wealth of ideas.


The flip side of the Blue Moon challenge is to get people to offer up solutions.  Our community is not shy and will voice their ideas in the areas that they are currently responsible for.  Yet it is human nature not to offer up ideas in what may be seen as outside of your expertise.   What if I’m wrong?  What if I offer up a “stupid” idea?  This experiment is trying to create an environment where there are not any stupid ideas.  We are challenging anyone with any ideas for a solution to post their concepts. 


So are you up for the challenge in your own organization?


Sharing the Vision,

Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

My inspiration for getting into strategy development came from a Heinlein novel that a friend of mine recommended eight years ago. The story takes place on a thriving lunar society in the year 2076. What was so fascinating about the novel was not the technology but how humanity will change as it inhabits the stars. It is a great story and I would highly recommend! I mention this novel primarily because of the power it had to focus my career and set me on a new path.

If we could use a similar media to inspire tomorrow’s explorers, what would it look like?  Maybe a graphic novel?  Graphic novels have been exponentially growing in popularity with a diverse segment of the population. Not only have they grown to take up a whole row in any Barnes and Noble book store, but they are now the source of a growing number of motion pictures. It is a great graphical way to tell a story and engages a whole new generation.

What if we used a graphic novel format to tell the story of the future Human Exploration missions? Could it be used to inspire a whole new generation or at least inform them of the fact that we are going to the moon and onto Mars? 

With that as a background, I would like to offer you the opportunity to shape the path of future explorers.  There is some momentum building on this idea of a graphic novel for space and here is your chance to help steer the storyline for novel. Let me know what you think about the below nine ideas and/or what additional story lines you would recommend.

1. Journey/tale showing various challenges and achievements of three children that all vow to go to the Moon after an inspirational event. They don’t all succeed and life changing events push them to grow in unexpected directions. They all follow different story arcs that occasionally intersect and they are eventually caught up in a global emergency that that takes them to the Moon and beyond.
2. Rescue story demonstrating the ingenuity and spirit of a small lunar outpost crew after the unexpected impact of an asteroid. Using materials salvaged from the outpost they journey to a lava tube below the lunar surface where they set up a temporary base until a vehicle can arrive from Earth.
3. Retrospective of a wealthy entrepreneur that made a fortune in commercial space. From a humble beginning in the rural Midwest, the hero works with NASA as it begins to explore the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars.
4. Global “Gold Rush” to the Moon after a fusion energy breakthrough make lunar helium 3 very valuable. In competition with “official” missions sponsored by countries are some very shady enterprises that will do whatever it takes to get there first.
5. Explorers on the Moon find evidence of previous visitors. The relics on the Moon point to an ancient base in Antarctica.
6. Inadvertent stowaway on a lunar resupply ship. Child’s experiences on lunar base until the next vehicle goes back to Earth.
7. Dateline Moonbase: Journalists embedded at lunar base report on technical, physical and emotional challenges of living and working in space.
8. First return to the moon; living in the habitat facing challenges with teammates, environment, communication, danger, adversity. Faced with unexpected conflicts, danger, health or injuries.
9. Following a diverse group of tweens in any town America that become interested in space travel. One is chosen later to travel to the moon and another to document the adventure.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Slow and Steady: China takes a walk and Russia partners with Cuba

As we prepare for the next Shuttle mission I am reminded of the great photo that captured two Shuttle vehicles at their respective launch pads. It is easy to look at that picture and admire the incredible capability and accomplishments of our Human Space program. At the same time I can’t help but wonder about the parable of the tortoise and the hare. If you recall the tortoise repeated over and over again, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

During the month when this Shuttle photo was taken, Zhai Zhigang, the Shenzhou VII mission’s commander, was the first taikonaut to take a walk in space. China’s third human mission launched on Thursday, September 25th demonstrates China’s steady efforts to establish a permanent Chinese Human presence in Space. Also in “mid-September, Moscow and Havana negotiated joint space projects. Anatoly Perminov, director of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), said the sides had discussed the possibility of setting up a Cuban space center with Russian assistance.” The interesting part of this editorial was the reference to Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez. I know who is Mr. Mendez? During the time that we were not flying and preparing for the first shuttle mission, Mr. Mendez was the first Cuban to go into space on September 18, 1980. Now 28 years later, we will probably have two additional space agencies within our western hemisphere. Two? Oh, did I forget to mention how our own astronaut, Jose Hernandez is working on a proposal with Mexico to establish Agencia Espacial Mexicana (Mexican Space Agency).

Yes, many will not see some of these efforts as ever gaining the momentum to challenge our leadership in space. This may be true, but what should be our strategy forward? There are new alliances and relationships being established in the international community that do not include NASA. Should we leverage these relationships or create new ones? If we were to strengthen our ties with India or initiate a new partnership with the Mexican Space Agency, what would it look like? Let me know what you think.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Making Money in Space

Last year NASA issued a Request for Information, or RFI, for Commercial Lunar Communications & Navigation. The intent was “to gauge interest and solicit ideas from private companies in providing communications and navigation services that would support the development of exploration, scientific and commercial capabilities on the moon over the next 25 years.” It is a potential next phase of the agency’s emphasis to encourage commercial space as it is doing with the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation System) program in the Commercial Crew & Cargo program office

As I reflected on potentially using a commercial satellite provider to enable the astronauts to “phone home” from the moon, I was curious as to what else has been going on in the world of space commerce. In the process I stumbled across this blog entry by Dr. Peter Diamandis, SUCCESS!!! Using Economic Engines to open the space frontier. In it he reflects on how the public flight of the Rocket Racing League “X-Racer” and the rollout of White Knight 2 were so critical. What caught my attention was his reflection on the X-Racer and how it “is tapping into the multi-billion dollar entertainment marketplace” and it is “a company which is exciting the public about space and driving the development of low-cost and reliable engines.” Of course he states his personal reasons for his enthusiasm about the X-Racer but it made me wonder what else could NASA do to encourage, foster, sponsor space commerce. What role should NASA play in enabling space commerce? For me, the benefit for NASA would be greater infrastructure that NASA could leverage as it explores beyond LEO.

If you haven’t had a chance to place your votes with the recent set of twitter polls focused on NASA’s future focus (NASA poll, Outside of NASA poll) I would encourage you to submit your vote.  You will find an interesting trend on the external poll.  It points to NASA having a greater focus on helping to develop commercial space.  The missing data is what should we do to fulfill this focus?

Let me know what you think our role should be as it relates to commercial space and what other efforts could be taken to spur on space commerce?

Sharing the Vision,
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

Innovator's Dilemma in Space

Before I expand on this dilemma, let me first acknowledge the artist’s work that I have been sharing over the past few weeks. Pat Rawlings’ images have inspired me for many years and have been the source of many of my creative views about the future. Most recently I used his images in a conversation with a TV network about space travel 50 years from now.

Of the many definitions of creativity that I have heard over the years my favorite comes from author Dale Dauten. It is best captured in a quote from his book, Better than Perfect, “He brought together two ways of thinking that usually don’t go together, so his own brain got stretched. That’s one way to be creative – to force together ideas that normally don’t go together.” So creativity results from holding simultaneously in your mind two thoughts that normally don’t go together. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to bring together individuals with different view points and to hold the differing perspectives simultaneously in the room and discover the creativity that is beyond just the sum or compromise of the different ideas. A few years ago Dale Dauten introduced the Innovator’s Lab to bring together leaders from different industries to find creative solutions that resulted from the different perspectives within the Innovator’s lab community. It is a great concept that we we were fortunate enough to introduce to JSC a few years ago.

Personally I like the distinction that John Kao makes in Innovation Nation between creativity and innovation. Creativity is the rich source of ideas. Innovation is the ability to take an idea and turn it into something useful. The trick is not to throw out the creative ideas because they don’t fit into predefined criteria of usefulness. It is easy to allow for the possibilities while brainstorming but it is more difficult to allow for new solutions to what at first glance may appear to be a familiar problem.

Which leads me to the Innovator’s Dilemma captured by Clayton Christensen. At the heart of the dilemma is the concept that the success achieved by organizations from their original innovations makes it difficult for it to be innovative and creative in the future. If we applied the dilemma to Human Space Exploration it would state that what made us successful over the fifty years has focused the realm of possibilities within the context of our experience. Therefore, how do we allow for alternative ideas in support of human exploration while simultaneously holding our 50 years of success?  Or stated another way, how do we bring together the multi generations for creative new solutions. Can we hold both perspectives at the same time and find a creative path that is beyond the multiple generational perspectives? How will the multiple creative perspectives come together when we move from creativity to innovation?

Yet, there is another more subtle challenge that results from the Innovator’s Dilemma that is captured so well from Steve Boehlke from SFB Associates. In his recent publication, The Politics of Creativity™: Four Domains for Inquiry and Action by Leaders in R&D, he discusses the cost of creativity to the leader, which applies to anyone in the organization. The successful organization defines creativity and innovation within the context of what has enabled its success in the past. What happens to the individual that offers creative and innovative ideas that don’t fit within the organization’s definition? What happens to the individual that truly believes in his “out of the box” idea and continues to push it forward when it doesn’t fit within the historical norms of the organization? I highly recommend reading Steve’s examination of this cost for the creative leader. Is the tag “out of the box” thinker a badge of honor in your organization? Is a “trail blazer” encouraged to come to the creativity and innovation table? How is the creative individual rewarded and acknowledged? Going back to Dale’s Innovator’s lab where different perspectives are brought together for creative new solutions, how do we bring together the “out of the box” thinkers with those with the tried and true perspectives?

Finally, all of the above authors agree that innovation requires failure. If you don’t fail in the process then are you really being creative and innovative? The dilemma occurs after success is achieved and the organization no longer has a stomach for failure. Do the systems in place in the organization allow for discovery through failure? Is failure encouraged or discouraged? What would you or your organization do in the classical management example of a senior leader making a million dollar mistake? As the story goes, the leader was called into the CEO’s office and was expecting to be fired by the CEO. As he handed his resignation to the CEO, she asked “What is this?” He said “I know you are going to fire me for my mistake and so I figured I’d save you the trouble by turning in my resignation.” Amazed, she responded, “Why would I do that, I just spent a million dollars training you. I know that you will never make that mistake again.” Mission failures aside, what is your appetite for failure?

Sharing the Vision,
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office

A Perspective from a Baby Boomer

I must admit that last week I got that pleased, grateful feeling like the one I get from being “carded” at the grocery store checkout line when I purchase a bottle of wine. It has been a while since I was the age of a Gen Y’er, but I took it as a great complement to be mistaken for one last week. For those that do not know me, I am a “Baby Boomer” with 20 years of experience at JSC and most of my blog entries have been from a “boomer” perspective. Granted, those that know me best would not categorize me as having the typical “Baby Boomer” perspective, but is there really a perspective that captures an entire Generation? No, but I do think there is a difference between the image we have of NASA before we arrive and the image after we have been supporting this great organization. So, let me share how the image changed for me and why it is good to revisit our original vision. To that end, join me in visualizing those two images.

For many in my generation it was the Apollo program or Star Trek that sealed our future with NASA. For me it was the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Yes, I am one of those that would love to see the mission of the agency to be, “To Boldly Go where No one has gone before.” My expectation was that upon entering the gates of NASA, I would find someone working on the Warp drive or a transporter. I thought that there would be people working on projects that pushed the boundaries of space and time. I expected Mission Control to look like the deck of the Enterprise. Instead, I found the Apollo Mission Control configuration that worked exceedingly well into the late 1980’s. Now don’t get me wrong; I believe that we are executing some very exciting missions and have some incredible technology projects occurring in various organizations around the Agency. My point is that my vision of where NASA was heading was different from the reality. I also found that many of my colleagues shared the same opinion.

Over the past 20 years that vision has been challenged by the realities of what is currently possible in the realm of human spaceflight. My original naiveté was reframed by the wisdom gained over the years and yet, there is much to be gained from recapturing the original vision we had when we first drove through the front gate. About 10 years ago I tried to recapture my initial feeling when I first arrived at JSC. It’s a long, but great story that can be found in the archived article from the NASA ASK magazine. The end result was that I was able to create a lab focused on looking at the leading and even bleeding edge of technology development. I found exciting research occurring inside and outside the agency that reminded me of the Star Trek technologies. There was the quantum pair possibility of either instant communication over large distances or teleportation and the potential holodeck application of the 3D visualization research at the University of Central Florida. In recapturing my original vision I found labs around the Agency that were collaborating and searching for new, creative ideas around the world. 

Now in 2008 I find myself wondering, what was that original vision of NASA for many of my Generation and the following Generations? What are the reasons why that original vision was not achieved? I carry a Motorola Razr in my pocket to communicate, so why can’t NASA push the boundaries of space and time? Earlier this year the Advanced Planning office asked a team of Generation Y leaders where they wanted JSC to be when they became Center Director or Program Managers.  We were asked by many, “Why did you ask Gen Y?” Partly, because they remember the feeling and vision they first had when they arrived at NASA. So think back and recall your original expectations when you arrived at NASA and hold it up to the view gained from wisdom over the years. Then see what unfolds. Yes, I am looking for my fellow Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers to offer their view of the future! Does your original expectation match the reality of where you are at now, FANTASTIC! Please, let me know. If it doesn’t, in what ways does it not match?

I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Sharing the Vision,
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office