Shift Happens

There is a great video called “Shift Happens” that I would highly recommend. Even though there are advocates and critics on both sides of this video, it brings up some excellent points about how the environment is changing around us and encourages one to consider what we are doing to prepare for the shift. During the spring of 2008, quite a bit of activity had occurred that hint at a shift in the JSC community towards the Center Directors Vision. It has been exciting in so many arenas that I’m reminded of the line from the movie Princess Bride, where Mandy Patinkin tries to sum up the events that have transpired, “Let me ‘splain…. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” So, to sum up…

Back in May JSC had its first Vision Forum aimed at getting a broad spectrum of opinions on a JSC 20 year vision and the associated set of tactics that Mike Coats had requested from a team of Next Gen’ers. The JSC 20 year vision was to capture that Generations perspective on the JSC environment as it supported the Agency’s strategic goals when they became Directors and Program Managers.  The Vision forum was attended by a great mix of generations, disciplines and organizations. We received a great deal of feedback with two overriding themes that captured the general mood of the event. First, everyone agreed with the attributes captured in the JSC 20 Year Vision and secondly, everyone wanted to know how they could be more involved in the activities to move the center forward. It was energizing to see the enthusiasm and interest from so many wanting to help steer the future direction of the Johnson Space Center.

During the first week of June the JSC 20 year vision was presented to the JSC Leadership team. Not only was it well received but we discovered activities being conducted in each of the directorates that are moving the Center towards a more open, collaborative, innovative, integrated organization. We also discovered there was a great deal of synergy between the 20 year vision tactics and a set of engagement teams that Mike Coats’ Innovation Council was considering deploying. Also, there was a great deal of overlap between the vision and the focus of the Innovation and Inclusion Council. The focus of this council is to continue to grow an environment of open mindedness, inclusion and innovation.

At the end of June, the Innovation Council, JSC 20 year vision and a set of initiatives from JSC’s Joint Leadership Team were merged and presented to the JSC Joint Leadership Team. The resulting recommendation was the formation of seven engagement teams to identify activities to address various aspects of the JSC community. These focus of the seven teams are as follows: Information Technology; Recruiting/Ultimate Employee Experience; Mentoring; Work/Life Fit; Awards and Recognition; Barrier Analysis and the Communication Teams. An exciting shift is happening at JSC.  My question this week is what can be done across the Agency to encourage a shift across all NASA centers?

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

It's Getting Crowded Out There

 This summer the Washington post ran an article titled “U.S. Finds It’s Getting Crowded Out There: Dominance in Space Slips as Other Nations Step Up Efforts”.  At first glance the article could be taken as a pessimistic view of the future for the Agency, but for me it is an affirmation of the strategy that Mike Coats, JSC Center Director, has been sharing with the JSC leadership for the past two years.   

During the summer of 2006 this image was generated to capture the perspective that LEO will be getting crowded and we could either choose to compete in a crowded LEO or lead the International team to explore beyond LEO.  Mr. Coats decided that consistent with the Agency vision, we should begin focusing our sights on leading the integrated International team, comprised of both government and private industry to extend human presence beyond LEO.  (Yes, I know Mars does not orbit the Earth, but the figure is trying to represent the idea that the next destination beyond the moon is Mars).


Leading, we have found, is a tricky word.  It carries so many different connotations with so many different communities.  For JSC and NASA, leading the integrated International team is only possible if the leadership of each participant in the team is acknowledged.  Two years ago Mike Coats encouraged each organization to reach out to the leaders across the space flight community and across industry to benchmark and where it made sense to partner with those organizations.  He realized that capability will continue to grow outside of our gates and that humanity’s ability to reach beyond LEO lay in bringing together the acknowledged leaders in the various communities.  His call for benchmarking and partnerships has led to strong collaborations with the Engineering leadership across the Agency and with the software development and simulation expertise at Ames, just to name a few.  Acknowledging the leadership of each of the participants in the collaboration has made the collective team stronger.  Recently JSC’s Space Life Sciences directorate acknowledged the leadership role that the Rice Business Alliance plays in spurring Innovation by providing seed money for proposals benefiting the human system.  Leveraging the leadership of Rice’s Business Plan competition will in the end leverage the entrepeneurial spirit across a larger community.


Ok, so what does this have to do with the growing space faring capability in the International community that is highlighted in the Washington Post article?  I believe NASA’s current strengths address the future described in the article in three ways.  First, the International Space Station has given this Agency the unique ability to collaborate and integrate the efforts of an international team.  We have established relationships that we can continue to strengthen as the International community grows their Space Exploration capabilities.  Because of these relationships we can celebrate the strengthening of the international team instead of bemoaning the fact that they are gaining capabilities as implied by the Washington post article.  Secondly, there is a spirit of solution seekers that is permeating the Agency.  Instead of always looking within, there is a growing emphasis to find the best solutions across the community, regardless if it is at another Center, commercial space or International.  As one Senior JSC leader is fond of saying, “It is not either/or.  It is AND.”  It is not a case of the International community or NASA.  It is not they lead or NASA leads.  It is we lead by capitalizing on our collective strengths. 


Finally the Center and the Agency is focusing more and more on growing an environment and culture of innovation and collaboration.  An organization that is continually innovating will continue to grow and adapt to the changing dynamics surrounding it.  


What do you think about the Washington Post article?  Do you agree or disagree?  If you agree, how can the Agency better position itself?


Sharing the Vision,

Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office







Back in the fall of 2006, the Advanced Planning office pulled together a team of innovative and creative thinkers to draft a “Blueprint” for JSC for the next 20 years. This team included four JSC employees that would potentially be Program Managers or Directors in the year 2025. The “Blueprint” served as the basis for the dialogue amongst the JSC Senior Leadership. In the fall of 2007, Barbara Zelon, currently the Communications Integration Lead, Constellation Orion Project, tapped into the Generation Y community for a presentation to the JSC Strategic Communications Panel. The authors of this presentation included a member of the “Blueprint” team from the previous year. The presentation captured among other topics, the perspectives of how the Generation Y Community received and shared communications and their Generations perspective on NASA. Barbara and I and others, worked with them on the second iteration of this presentation that was eventually presented at the AIAA Exploration Conference in Denver. This presentation has received a great deal of publicity earlier this year, which prompted Mr. Coats and the Advanced Planning office to request an offsite to gain additional insight from this community. Building upon what was started two years ago, we asked the authors of the “Generation Y” presentation to pull together 30 of their peers for an offsite focused on the future Direction of JSC.

What I found most interesting about the offsite were the similarities that cross the Generations. The desire to make a difference and to be in the center of the activity is the same spirit that filled the Baby Boomer and Generation X community when they arrived at JSC. In the Apollo era there were not any SAGES (Shuttle and Apollo Generation Expert Services) to tap into for advice. It was the “20 something” and “30 something” that were the program managers and directors, with a passion to change the world, without having to wait for a decade to take on their leadership role. Additionally, for those Generation Y’ers that are fortunate enough to join the NASA community, their passion for the mission of the Agency equals that of any Boomer or X’ers.

Yet, there is a difference with this next Generation. Even though we discovered an incredible diversity within this community, more so than is captured in the Generation Y presentation, there are a few themes that this Agency and Center will need to address as it considers how to maintain and continually engage this incredible community. The first is the “Digital divide”. This term has been used quite a bit in reference to the technology gap associated with the varying income level across the United States, but for me it has a different implication to the standard practices found in the Agency. For example it is not the connectivity and use of Social Media tools (blogs, chats, virtual environments, wikis, etc.) by this Generation does not, on its own, create the divide. The source of the “Digital Divide” is the very different conversations that occur digitally versus those that occur verbally and the information that is shared digitally versus verbally. I can write pages on this topic alone, but suffice it to say that the conversations that occur in the digital world do not follow our traditional hierarchical processes nor have the same tone as the verbal conversations that occur in conference rooms across the Agency. As time goes on, those that aren’t tapped into these digital conversations will find themselves without a complete picture of the dialogue occurring on any given topic. One final note on this “Digital Divide”, it is not just across Generations. Don’t assume that just because someone is a Generation Y’er that they participate in the digital conversations. You will find Generation Y’ers on both side of the divide.

Secondly the term leadership has very different connotations and meanings across the Generations. Again, a lengthy entry could be devoted to this topic alone. But until then, consider how leadership is defined for a community that consistently networks in a flat and collaborative social network. How does this translate back to the hierarchical culture in the Agency?

So what did this team of Generation Y that participated in the offsite believe was JSC’s value proposition? In short, to be the source of Innovation that pushes the limits of Human space Exploration. Just like the Administrator and JSC’s Center Director, Mike Coats, they see the Agency’s value delivery focused in the future beyond LEO. They believe the key to deliver this value lies in our ability to be Innovative.  Innovation means many things to many communities and their perspective is different from the other Generations.

More on innovation in my next blog. In the mean time, how would you define Innovation?

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

International Space: Space Race or Federation

Fifty years later and it is amazing how many still long for another space race. The logic goes something like this, “If we had another Space Race then the public and therefore congress would fully fund American Space Exploration.” As you can imagine there are many strong opinions about the validity of that logic, but at the AAS 2007 national conference titled “Celebrating Fifty Years – But, What’s Next?” I recently heard two opinions that greatly resonated with me. The first was that the initial Space Race must be couched in the context of that time and the global context of today is very different. The second was from the collaborative, social networking culture of Generation Y and their desire to see a global effort to expand our presence in Space. As the speaker shared the Generation Y opinions of the future, what came to mind were the beginnings of “The Federation” for all of you Star Trek fans.

But not only is the context different today and the perspectives of the next Generation very different from 50 years ago, the International Space community is much more than just two super powers. In the World Prospects for Government Space Markets Report available from Euroconsult, an in-depth analysis on government civil and military space is captured for the 35 leading countries and organizations, along with insights into the 48 emerging national programs. The first time I saw the below chart I was surprised by some of the emerging programs. Although not shown here, the report also highlights Mexico’s plans to create a Mexican Space Agency, or AEXA, for short.

Yes, all of these nations are not involved in the Human Exploration of Space but the number is greater than 2 and growing. Secondly this chart makes the point that space competencies are being found in an ever expanding global community. This growth is being fueled not just by national pride but also by a growing realization that innovation leads to national wealth and attracts more business. For some great insight into this, I would recommend Innovation Nation by John Kao. (More on Innovation in a future blog.) Or for a shorter read, look at the Road map drafted between Russia and the European Union that highlights space as an area of focus for economic growth, Road Map For The Common Economic Space – Building Blocks For Sustained Economic Growth. OK, so what about Space Exploration? I think that JAXA captures it best in their video presentation of their JAXA Vision – JAXA 2025. In the video it shows a moon populated with bases from multiple nations. Currently Russia, (Russia to send manned mission to the Moon by 2025), China (China Plans to Land on Moon By 2024), India, (Indian scientists support human space mission) and Japan are planning human missions to the moon. When those countries arrive they will find other vehicles in the space around the moon and on the lunar surface. Last year “British space scientists said they plan to undertake the country’s first mission to the moon by the end of the decade. Germany also plans an unmanned flight to the moon by 2013. Beside Germany and UK, China, Japan, India and Italy have similar plans.” (see Russia Plans To Go On the Moon). So with all of these countries heading out beyond Low Earth Orbit can you truly call it a race? Or will the better measure of success be who has the greatest staying power? Which nation, once they land on the lunar surface, will establish a lasting presence on the moon? Or better yet, who will partner with whom to reach to the moon and beyond?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the future of space exploration is the partnerships that are being created for this “New Space Age”. Russia is partnering with ESA to create the Clipper Spacecraft. Russia and India are joining in a moon mission and China is partnering with Nigeria and Venezuela. Earlier this year it was announced that NASA and India have signed an agreement for future cooperation. Yet, more intriguing than the new collaborations is who isn’t included in the team. The original 2 space faring nations are not always included in the teaming arrangements.

Adding this to the changing environment in commercial space that I shared last time makes me believe that the next 20 years will be quite different from the past 50. It offers a great deal of opportunity for NASA and a challenge. The opportunity lies in the potential partnerships that we can leverage and the growing expertise that we can tap into globally. The challenge is to decide if this future environment will necessitate a new or more focused role for JSC and the other NASA centers. Therefore, the question I leave for you this week is whether our role (or if you prefer, the unique value we offer) should change in the future and if so what should it be?

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

Commercial Space: Is LEO about to get a little more crowded?

On Monday, January 7th, 2008, at the JSC All Hands, the NASA Administrator was asked to comment on Commercial Space. As he has done in many forums, he shared the analogy of how the commercial airline industry was spurred on by the investment made by the government to transport cargo (primarily mail) which in turn leads to commercial airline travel. With this as a backdrop, he reiterated his commitment to the investment that NASA is making in the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation System) program for transporting cargo to the International Space Station. His stated desire is to get the agency focused on the business of Space exploration and to eventually buy services to low Earth orbit.

I applaud this strategy and at the same time find it interesting how split the space exploration community is on the viability of commercial access to space. Critics believe that as long as we launch on rockets, the commercial community will never be able to make it safe enough for access by the general public and will therefore have a difficult time in making a profit. Alternatively, there are reports by companies like Futron that project the potential space tourism market.

Regardless of on which side of the fence you find yourself, there was one compelling statement made last year by a consultant who does scenario planning for various organizations and industries. When we asked him what he thought about Commercial Space, he stated that he couldn’t comment on their success, but he could state that the collective amount of discretionary funding available by the “New Space” community exceeds the NASA budget. He also stated that they are focused on only one goal, access to space and with that amount of investment focused on one goal; it is only a matter of time before they are successful. So what are some of the investments being made outside of NASA?

Commercial Space Ports

In 2004 MSNBC published this map of the current and future space ports. Since then New Mexico’s Spaceport America was approved by voters and in December, 2005 Sir Richard Branson announced that New Mexico will be Virgin Galactic’s world headquarters. The list continues to grow including the following locations Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Blue Origin’s goal to open a space port in West Texas to the list of space ports in the US.

Internationally, Spaceports are being developed in the most unlikely of places. Pictured to the left is an artist’s illustration of Space Adventures’ concept for a spaceport outside Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Virgin Galactic also recently announced that it would host sub orbital flights into the Northern lights from Spaceport Sweden. Along with Spaceport Scotland, Spaceport Singapore (shown below) is expected to provide suborbital spaceflights, parabolic aircraft flights and other space tourism experiences.

Commercial Access to Space

Space Frontier maintains a growing list of the next Generation of Space companies that are entering the commercial space market. The list includes the New Space Launch Service Companies like SpaceX(COTS award recipient), Airlaunch LLC, Armadillo Space, and Blue Origin. Their list also includes Companies Marketing Russian/Ukrainian Launchers and Space & Zero-G Tourism and Training Companies. Among the more interesting ones are those focused on tourism like Space Adventures and Japan’s first space travel company, Spacetopia. Also intriguing is the company whose goal is to develop the premier crew training program for suborbital flight, Orbital Commerce project. Another growing list on their website is the Infrastructure/Subsystems Companies like Bigelow Aerospace, with whom JSC has an active Space Act agreement to share our expertise and knowledge.

Yet even their list is not complete. There are many more interested in ensuring a continual presence in low Earth orbit and beyond. JSC alumni and astronaut, Leroy Chiao, is working with Excalibur Almaz, who plans on offering week-long flights that deposit tourists at modernized, Russian-designed space stations. Or one of my favorites,The Galactic Suite Space Resort that will “provide a fully integrated space tourism experience by weaving together an astronaut training process with a relaxing time in a tropical paradise island as the preparation for this space journey.” There are also those with their sights beyond LEO, as witnessed by 4Frontiers Corporation, an emerging space commerce company focused on the settlement of Mars. Will they all be successful? Probably not. But what if a handful are successful? Or even just one commercial provider to sub orbit or orbit turns a profit? What will be the ripple effect be to NASA? What impact, if any, will it have on our role in the Human Exploration of Space?

Next time, the International Space community.

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