Farewell NASA: The Circular CIO

When I was aschool-aged math student, I always held a special fascination for circles.  I loved trigonometric functions and wouldplay with identities just for sport.  So,here I am now, a more “seasoned” girl and I find myself thinking again about mylove for circles. 

First, let’sdefine a circle.  It is a set of pointson a plane equidistant from another particular point which is its center.  It has no beginning and no end.  It just goes around, and around, and around –from beginning to end to beginning again. 

And here Iam at the end.

Again, atthe beginning.

I’m leavingNASA.  Retiring actually.  Well, kinda. Ending my Federal NASA career and starting a new post civil servantadventure. 

Way back inMay of 1980, I started a nearly 34-year professional career at NASA at GoddardSpace Flight Center.  I was a GS-7 1520Mathematician.  I was in the professionalinternship program (PIP) and had to have great grades to get in and do greatthings to get promoted.  I met anotherGS-7 1520 Mathematician – a shy young girl named Stephanie Gayle Henry who endedup being a BFF for life.  I was a systemsprogrammer on the IBM 360/95 working in Code 500 for Jack Balikirsky.  IBM Assembler Language was fun.  Not for wimps, for sure.

But I leftNASA.  Got married (the first time), to aguy who wanted to move to Seattle.  Twenty-fiveyears, 4 additional Federal agencies, and stint at Boeing Computer Services…later, I divorced and came back to an agency I never wanted to leave.  I came full circle.  Now, I am leaving again – at the end of thecircle.  Again.

As I beginand end, I want to mention a few great NASA leaders that I had the pleasure ofserving under this time.  They all havesomething in common – they are tough … some perhaps in some cases rather mean. 

 I willmention them in pairs, which are almost as good as circles.

Ed Weilerand Rob Strain.  They were pretty toughand mean.  On the surface, they werequite different – in stature and in academic background.  But, at the end of the day, Ed was a thugfrom the South Side of Chicago shaped by the hope and despair that surroundedhim;  and Rob was a thug form Flint,shaped by the hard work and long hours of the tireless men and women in theauto industry.  Both men are tirelessleaders whose love of space made NASA a better place.  One focused his telescope on heavenly bodieslight years away and the other focused his on Earth objects and businesssystems that just kept things running. Thanks Ed and Rob.

Lori Garverand Charlie Bolden.  Pretty tough andmean – well, maybe some think Charlie isn’t mean – but he is a Marine.  Get it. Hoorah.  So, Charlie is anastronaut and Lori is a policy wonk. Yet, this Odd Couple often accused of not getting along have the mostawesome thing in common.  Greatleadership and love of EVERYTHING space. Thanks Lori and Charlie. 

A quickpersonal story.  My husband’s first wifewasn’t especially fond of me.  And Istayed clear of her.  Then our mutuallove, her grandson, broke his foot and was in severe pain.  We were both in the orthopedic surgeon’soffice crying – because this little boy we both loved was in a bad way.  We loved the same thing.  Therefore, we loved each other – the associativeproperty of love.  That’s the real Lori and Charlie. 

So, I’m atthe end again.  Really at thebeginning.  What am I doing next?  Just Google that.  But, I sign off on my last NASA CIO blogsaying that I am leaving and agency I love to start a new beginning again. 

NASA, thanksfor being at my center.  Cureton Out.

LindaCureton, NASA CIO

The End


Cybersecurity Awareness Month

One of the greatest challenges I face as the NASA CIO is how to empower the NASA community’s use of emerging technologies while ensuring that use does not compromise NASA and the NASA mission.  This balancing act is a critical part of the decisions I make in leading the organization forward.  As each new advancement becomes the “must have “technology, security stands up to caution the community and ask that we take a few moments to ensure that the new technology will not harm the Agency in the long run.  This pause often feels like a lifetime; however, the few moments we are asked to wait for the next best thing is invaluable. 

Without effective security practices, our achievements and innovations are easily lost, stolen, or misused.  There is only so much I can do from my organization.  The NASA community must take security considerations into account if NASA is going to maintain its technological and innovative edge, and to help ensure that NASA’s important work in furthering aeronautical and space research and technologies does not fall into the hands of others who may use it against our nation and our nation’s citizens.

The safety and security of NASA data is determined by actions taken, or in some cases not taken, every day by members of the NASA Community.  While you may consider it cliché, NASA truly is only as strong and secure as its weakest link.  During the month of October our focus is directed towards the important role day-to-day security practices play in securely enabling the NASA mission.  We aim to help everyone in our NASA community to become a stronger link in the security chain.  NASA kicks off cybersecurity awareness month with the NASA National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Training Event on October 3rd at NASA Headquarters.  Throughout October, NASA will host a series of cybersecurity awareness activities at each Center.  These awareness events are designed to highlight cybersecurity roles and responsibilities, and provide the opportunity to ask cybersecurity professionals the IT security questions you have always wanted to ask (e.g., “You really expect me to remember 24 passwords, each with 12 unique characters, without writing them down.  Why/How?”). 

Understanding and implementing the fundamentals of cybersecurity is a critical component of our ongoing success.  I want to remind everyone in the NASA community to STOP – THINK – CONNECT, as NASA Leaps forward … in Cybersecurity.

Linda Cureton CIO, NASA

The End of the Mainframe Era at NASA

This monthmarks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA’s last mainframe, the IBMZ9 Mainframe.  For my millennial readers,I suppose that I should define what a mainframe is.  Well, that’s easier said than done, but heregoes — It’s a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available,secure, and powerful.  They are bestsuited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot ofinput/output – that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.  

Source: IBM archives - www.ibm.com

They’rereally not so bad honestly, and they have their place.  Things like virtual machines, hypervisors,thin clients, and swapping are all old hat to the mainframe generation thoughthey are new to the current generation of cyber youths. 

In my first stint at NASA, I was at NASA’sGoddard Space Flight Center as a mainframe systems programmer when it was stillcool. That IBM 360-95 was used tosolve complex computational problems for space flight.   Backthen, I comfortably navigated the world of IBM 360 Assembler language and stillremember the much-coveted “green card” that had all the pearls of informationabout machine code.  Back then, realsystems programmers did hexadecimal arithmetic – today, “there’s an app for it!”

 But allthings must change.  Today, they are thesize of a refrigerator but in the old days, they were the size of a CapeCod.  Even though NASA has shut down itslast one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations.  The end-user interfaces are clunky and somewhatinflexible, but the need remains for extremely reliable, secure transactionoriented business applications. 



Technology Divas

Ok, so I’m on a cruise and writing a blog about technology.  I’m not weird; I’m a CIO – same thing, right?  At sea with two girlfriends who work for NASA on our annual winter vacation.  Maybe there’s something about working at NASA that makes us overly integrated with Information Technology.  Attached here is a picture of Stephanie, Tonjua, and I on a New Jersey shore overlooking Atlantic City in extreme gratitude of a much-coveted cell phone signal.  Or perhaps “bleeding NASA blue” means more than just a mindset, it’s a lifestyle. 

Jason, We Have a Problem

I went as long as possible before I finally turned data roaming on so I could check my email.  Email is like crack … it hooks you and is addictive, especially if you get hundreds per day.  After the email finished downloading, I thought I’d peek at just a few only answering the most important ones.  After a while, I got sucked in and the tempo of my replies started to increase exponentially.  Finally, I got a nasty reply from my special assistant, Jason.  WILL YOU STOP REPLYING AND SENDING EMAILS — YOU ARE ON VACATION!  Oops.  Busted.

I got revenge the next day though.  He asked me to approve something really quick.  Sadly, I had done a reset system clear on all the passwords stored in my head.  I guess life somehow will go on. 

Let Me Check My Book

We were blessed on our cruise to share a table with Brian D. from Baltimore.  Sometimes, it’s a crapshoot about who you get matched up with during dinner, but this time we got lucky and were with him and two of his lovely friends, Aunt Erika and Aunt Veronica (who we found out hits back).  The Divas and I invited them to an event coming up soon and Brian said he would “…have to check his book, which is up in the cabin”.  A book?  Yes, he does not have a cell phone or a smart phone and uses paper and pencil to keep his schedule.  That was a jaw-dropping moment for sure.  But, as a thought of it and reflected all the Enterprise Calendar problems I’m dealing with, maybe his technology works better than NASA’s. 

Compare and contrast this with our laugh of the week from girlfriend and cruise mate Tonjua.  Earlier this month she was waiting for the designated time to pick up her daughter Maleah.  Out of the blue, she got a call from her 10-year old.  After checking the caller id, Tonjua questioned her about what phone she was calling from.  She declared it her phone.  Maleah’s mother reminded her that she did not and could not have a cell phone.  The young tween then explained to her mother and NASA Enterprise Architect about how she found the app on the internet that works with the new iPod Touch she got for Christmas (based on specific engineering requirements she gave to Santa Claus).  She told this maternal technologist that she has unlimited texting and ten minutes of voice free each month.  Mom is devastated.  Now she has to impose security restrictions on the application layer!

Security is Personal

Finally, I learned a bit about security from my fellow cruisers.  This cruise happened a few scant days after a disturbing cruise disaster at sea. 

In IT Security, CIO’s spend a lot of time with “check the box” compliance.  We do all kinds of things to make people feel secure – 12-character passwords, two-factor authentication, and nice familiar logos giving assurance that someone is looking out for you.  However, at the end of the day, we need to look out for ourselves.  

The cruise is always started the lifeboat drill.  Most passengers merely tolerate this annoyance and view it as a delay for their week of fun.  This particular cruise, the Baltimore passengers were even more annoyed because it interrupted the last two minutes of the playoff game between the Ravens and the Texans.  Cell phones were forbidden and we had to line up at our muster stations and listen to the obligatory safety instructions.  But, this time, a hush came across the crowd as the captain explained the procedures for evacuation and use of the lifeboats.  I felt even safer knowing that others, like me, were figuring out how to use the lifeboats themselves. 

I guess the Technology Divas might survive this week with limited use of technology and television.  Hey, but someone on the back row did sneak in their cell phone during the lifeboat drill.  We were getting intermittent game highlights sandwiched between important safety information.  Houston had a problem that day, because Baltimore beat them in a game exciting to the very end.  

 Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA






NASA Launches apps@NASA

NASA launched apps@NASA (http://apps.nasa.gov), a website where NASA employees and contractors can download mobile apps that securely access NASA systems.  These apps enable our users to perform critical job functions at anytime from anywhere via personal and NASA mobile devices.  

This is part of a full suite of services that is provided by the NASA Enterprise Applications Competency Center (NEACC).  The NEACC resides at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  It is supported by SAIC under the Enterprise Applications Service Technologies (EAST) contract of our Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure Integration Program (I3P).  The NEACC’s role is to help NASA improve business processes and to deploy enabling technology needed to implement our Agency’s strategic plan. 

A wide range of services are available under NEACC’s Center for Internal Mobile Apps (CIMA).  This includes the ability to host, distribute, and provide support for internal mobile applications; the ability to develop internal mobile applications for NASA mission needs; and the ability to provide secure NASA-approved methods for authentication and access to Agency internal resources. 

Even though apps@NASA is only available to NASA employees and contractors (don’t you wish you worked at NASA?), the use of internal apps stores has a broad interest.  There’s a lot of debate in the IT community relative to the use of mobile devices in the workplace in general.  Whether or not IT providers are ready or not, mobile devices both enterprise-issued and personally-owned are in the workplace.  This service advances us a bit further beyond debate and into the world where IT service providers must enter – a world where the driving force of technology and customer expectations advance faster than policy and procurement cycles and the restraining force of security and legal issues like e-Discovery and records management keep our feet firmly grounded in reality. 

Managing diversity like this is where CIO’s tread carefully.  apps@NASA is a first small step for the mankind that work at NASA into a daunting world where customer expectations are measured in hours or minutes and not in 18-month software develop lifecycles. 

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO



Week One: NASA on Google Plus

Guest Blogger: Deborah Diaz, Deputy CIO of NASA


Information overload? How many accessible and scalable communication techniques in social media can be utilized effectively to collaborate … and in NASA’s case, push the frontier of space exploration? It’s now been one week since we launched the NASA Google+ account and NASA has seen an overwhelming positive response. We were impressed with the rapid growth of the NASA presence on the Facebook and Twitter platforms, we do have the data for each platform at the 20,000 mark. It took #NASA 469 days to reach 20,000 followers on Twitter, 276 days on Facebook, and only 4 days on Google+. As of this morning, between the three platforms, NASA has a combined reach of 2,264,854 (1,605,159 on twitter, 625,459 on Facebook, 34,236 on Google+). With NASA’s almost 35,000 followers on Google+, NASA is the third most popular non-Google page (http://socialstatistics.com/top/pages).


What’s more interesting than the number of followers on the Google+ platform, is how active the community has been. In the first week of use, NASA posted 53 times to Google+. These posts generated 18,854 +1’s, 7,969 shares and 1996 comments. The most popular post was the time lapse video from space (https://plus.google.com/u/0/102371865054310418159/posts/Bpb9wRt7SDp?hl=en).


There are a lot of possibilities for innovation through social media at NASA and this level of activity on this new media platform confirms there is still space to experiment and grow. In the next few weeks, NASA will continue to share our amazing and iconic imagery, but we are also planning on hosting hangouts with our scientists, engineers, and maybe even Astronauts! Our first hangout will be on Monday November 21st at 3pm ET with our Open Government Initiative. We’ll be discussing Open Source, Open Data and Social Media.


We’d love to hear what ideas you have on how NASA uses social media and invite you to share your thoughts here or on any of our NASA social media platforms.


Deborah Diaz




NASA on Google Plus

 Guest Blogger: Deborah Diaz, Deputy CIO of NASA


Our world population has doubled in the past 50 years.  We had three billion in 1959, four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987 and six billion in 1998.  A little over one week ago, the human population on planet Earth reached seven billion. This marks an important milestone for our species. Fifty years ago, shortly before John F. Kennedy issued his challenge to reach the moon, we had just crossed the three billion mark. This expansion is a testament to our ability to produce, grow, and connect. Perhaps the most important innovation tying us together since then has been the advent of the public Internet. As we’ve grown and become more dispersed over the planet, the Internet has allowed us to instantaneously connect and communicate in new and exciting ways.

Although we may still see the Internet largely as a productivity tool, or as a way to access information, it’s become so much more than that. It’s a collaboration platform that is bringing us together.  With the acceleration of digital convergence and increasingly pervasive use of digital devices to access all manner of information, the Internet has become a platform for participation.  Each second, the world’s information is increasingly sorted, sifted, and combined in various useful and creative ways by communities of people from all corners of the world.  Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+ are reshaping human interactions and helping us connect to one another.  

As an agency trusted with charting the universe and expanding human knowledge, NASA has long been at the forefront of using the Internet to communicate with and involve citizens in our mission of space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research. NASA had one of the first websites on the Internet in the 90s, obtained one of the first accounts on Twitter in 2007, and began Tweeting in late 2008.  We have now launched our NASA presence on Google+ as the first government agency on the platform.

This is an exciting step for NASA and we have already seen enormous interest from the Google+ community – we had over a thousand new followers in the first hour!  We look forward to exploring this new engagement platform and innovating how NASA shares information.  


Deborah Diaz

NASA Deputy Chief Information Officer


Getting High on ACES

Man Holding up a Shining Ace

ACES is theend-user Services component of NASA’s InformationTechnology (IT) Infrastructure Integration Program (I3P) Program.  It provides a consolidated solution fordelivering end-user services across NASA to achieve increased efficiencies andreduce costs though standardization and commonality.  Efficiency is balanced with effectiveness in providingthe means to build specialized solutions when mission needs require them.  Services provided include computing and mobilebundled seats, Enterprise-wide email, directory and printing services, andperipherals.

Talk aboutthings that scare a CIO, nothing scares a CIO more than transitioning from oneservice provider to another.  And Isuppose nothing is scarier than to blog about it just a few short days beforethe risky transition is about to take place. ACES, the $2.2 billion 10-year contract, was awarded to HP EnterpriseServices (HPES) of Herndon, VA.  We willtransition from services provided through the ODIN contract and Lockheed MartinInformation Systems and Global Solutions (LMIS&GS). 

Both membersof the much-maligned “ITCartel” are up to the task and more than capable of doing the heavy liftingneeded for success.  Thank goodness,because as the government seeks to streamline operations, we rely on our contractingcommunity more and more.  Developing andnurturing a professional camaraderie is critical to having an ecosystemconducive to meeting government IT challenges. 

If all goeswell, this will be one of the biggest non-events since Y2K.  If it goes poorly, then the scores oftechnicians and program managers who have worked feverishly over the last fewmonths will kick their contingency planes into gear.  This is another example where failure here issimply not an option. 

ACES movesus one step closer to addressing one of OMB’stop 25 issues by positioning NASA to enjoy economy of scale relative tocommodity desktop IT.  This will also putNASA in a position to securely leverage trends in virtualization and consumer experiences.   Morethan that, it gives the mission a way to get technology when they need it sothat they can focus on their specialized challenges. 


LindaCureton, NASA CIO


My Information Technology Ministry

I recently became the Co-chair of the Federal CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee.  Though I’m new to the gig, I can see similarities between this role and leadership roles I’ve had at church.   Sure, some enterprise architects are zealots about what they do and what they believe in, but the real similarity comes in leading volunteers when you have no direct control or authority over them.  For this reason, when people ask me what’s the best way to get experience as a CIO, I always suggest that they volunteer for leadership in the Information Technology programs at their church or community. 


The true mark of successful leadership shows when people are able to gain followers over whom they have no leverage.  CIOs often find themselves responsible and accountable for things over which they have no control.  This is why there is often so much talk about what CIOs have “control” over.  But, this isn’t unusual in technical and professional jobs.  John Kotter confirms in Power and Influence that:


“Most of the power gap one finds in professional and technical jobs is associated with relationships outside the formal chain of command.”


The skills that one acquires to get results outside of their direct authority or chain of command are critical for getting desired business outcomes.  John C. Maxwell in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, he advises CEO’s to look for the best leaders in those that have successfully led volunteer organizations for at least six months.  He tells us that:


Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won’t follow


While serving in my church’s IT Ministry, I found that if you can get a bunch of set-in-their-ways Baptist deacons and trustees to migrate to a new church membership system, you can implement an enterprise resource planning system.  In this case, I had to convince them that it would be Divine Will that we upgrade to a more modern system else we burn in the eternal hell of non-Y2K compliance.  It worked and we modernized our old church membership system. 


Another similar aspect is the need for a Ten Commandments or enterprise architecture.  The importance of enterprise architecture is that in its most useful form, it defines a clear, unambiguous set of principles that guide IT decisions in an organization.  Architecture you can use is not reams and volumes of useless dogma.  It looks something like this:


·         Thou shall consider cloud computing solutions first before buying a dedicated infrastructure for your application.

·         Thou shall not bare false witness to other IT investments and demonstrate value producing desired outcomes consistent with your business case else you risk termination and eternal damnation.

·         Thou shall run securely and not make wrongful use of any data entrusted to you so that thy days may be long.


And finally, people want to have hope for tomorrow and vision for a better future. My grandmother used to say that everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.  That means that we often want benefits without making a commensurate sacrifice.  In IT speak, that means we want to reduce the cost of what we spend on IT, but we don’t want to sacrifice value of the services and capabilities we get.  But in order to get to IT heaven, we need to die to duplicative infrastructures and “one-off” spending and believe in economies of scale and shared services. 


Of course an enterprise resource planning system is much more complex than a church membership product and an agency Web portal has more multifaceted considerations compared to a homeowner’s association newsletter, but the foundational leadership skills are the same.   These skills allow leaders to bring people together over whom they have no authority and align them along a common set of principles or beliefs by building a sense of community.  Leaders at all levels have to have these capabilities in order to turn vision, hope, and dreams into reality. 


Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

Reaching for the Stars

I just came back from a Mother’s Day cruise with Mom.  While there, I unexpectedly ran into a former colleague from an old job.  Mercifully, we didn’t talk about work; we talked about shooting craps in the casino.  She wanted me to teach her and her friend to play.  I thought, this is going to be a challenge – her technical specialty was in IT security and her friend was an attorney.  How are these two obviously risk-averse individuals going to handle the perilous world of gambling?  On a much larger and complex scale, it sounds like the challenges we face as an agency.   

There couldn’t be a better time to work for NASA than to witness history being made as we plan what life will be like for humans beyond low Earth orbit.  As quiet as it’s kept, NASA is a bureaucratic agency.  But, don’t get me wrong, being bureaucratic isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Here’s why.

Bureaucracy was a positive construct for large complex organizations that needed to have high levels of mission success and operate as efficiently as possible.  Bureaucracy cares about ensuring safety, eliminating risk to human life, and having stewardship over expensive resources and capital.  The processes and procedures in place in a bureaucracy are well-suited for tasks and activities too large and complex for any one person to know.  And it also distributes authority so that one person isn’t the sole decision-maker.  The foundation of our government was built on this principal.  We want a government that is for the people, we want to be protected as efficiently as we can, and we want separation of powers so that no one person can be king. 

Yet, the downside of bureaucracy becomes apparent as we attempt to lean forward in innovative ways.  It is difficult to do things where there are no processes defined, new roles and responsibilities are needed, and the increase in risk is demanded.  Though creating an innovative bureaucracy seems at one extreme an oxymoron and at the other an over-simplification of what needs to be done it MUST to be done through innovating processes and procedures, defining new roles and responsibilities, and developing new technology and capabilities. 

I guess I should report how my little bureaucrats did at the crap table.  First, we simulated actual game playing with a craps application on the laptop.  In a safe environment, we learned the rules – enough of them anyway – though the attorney wanted to know all of them.  We learned how to place bets, but the computer game was a little quirky in letting you accidently bet someone else’s money.  The IT security guru had to think that through a bit then realized with actual money, there were security cameras all over the casino and the dealers were watchful. 

When it was time to actually play, the risk would be limited to $200, but the fun would be greater than that.  They figured out how to follow their intuition and take action on what they believed.  The value of a team of people around the table with the same mission and focus was something immeasurable yet invaluable.  Crapping out wasn’t so bad if you earned money in the process.  The sweetest words of the evening were “ladies, pick up your winnings”.  They loved every second of it and smiled brightly as they reached for their chips. 

In due time, NASA will lean forward with plans for the future.   The strength of our bureaucracy will be leveraged by the love of what we do and why we do it.  Yeah, there will need to be some chips on the table and we might crap out on a few rolls, but it won’t be so bad if we learn in the process and keep the losses acceptable.   It’s indeed a pleasure to be here as NASA reaches for the stars. 

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA