Here at NASA, we do countdowns all the time. Usually, it is towards a new beginning, a launch into space. Mine has been different: I have become accustomed to silently googling “days till 12/31” and seeing this number slowly dwindle as I get closer to the end or my time at NASA. The number is 33 days today, and I am getting anxious about the number dropping even further and getting to zero.

It has been several months now since I announced that I am leaving NASA. And, although I am sure it was the right decision, I have not been ready for the emotional roller coaster that decision has come with. On the one hand, it feels a little bit like mourning a loved one in my family, even before their passing. Nearly every time I walk into a room, someone tells me that they are sorry I am leaving, and thank me for something that is meaningful to them. I actually appreciate what people tell me – somehow I am more vulnerable now.

For example, more than one person told me how they were encouraged when I told them that I sometimes had a hard time focusing due to light ADHD, or when I told them about my poor upbringing. I am glad they are encouraged and I am glad they finally told me.

Secondly, I mourn about saying good bye to the teams I have been working with. I feel part of Clipper, JWST, of Roman, of Landsat Next, and so many other missions. And I feel part of the NASA Science and NASA leadership teams. I have spent many evening and weekend hours checking in on people, on managers when things get tough, to just one of the amazing people I work with at HQ, whether within our team or beyond. I will so miss them and wish them nothing but the best.

Third, and almost embarrassingly so, I noticed a former companion of mine pop back up with a louder voice- my imposter syndrome. I know many colleagues hear that voice, as to some from simple upbringings like me. Many times in our careers, we have felt like we are not really good enough for what we do. And we have worried that others might find out soon that we may not be nearly as good as they think we are. I am sure my psychologist friends can figure out why this thing is popping up now. Will there be a meaningful job for me once I leave NASA? Or, will all appreciation go away the moment I turn in my badge?

So, as I go through the next few days and weeks, I am so grateful to be working each and every day as part of great teams, and seeking to continually improve. I currently in Japan for my final international visit in my job – I am so proud for what we have achieved together internationally.

As I get closer to the end of the year, I also look forward to focusing to 2023 and beyond, and learning what’s next for me. And, even though I am worried in many ways, I am excited to see in what way I can again contribute to make the world a better place. That is the attitude that got me the coolest job I have yet had, and I hope and trust it will get guide me to what is next.

Upcoming JPSS-2 and LOFTID Launch

I am often asked about my favorite mission during my 6+ years at NASA, and I struggle with this question.
Should I talk about the historic achievement that has become reality called JWST, or the “SciFi made real” mission called Perseverance, with its flying companion Ingenuity? The rover is about to deposit a collection of carefully curated samples for return to Earth, the first time ever. Do I say the mission to touch the Sun, Parker Solar Probe, the first mission ever seen launched by the person it is named after? Or, DART, the mission speaking to everyone’s inner gamer, deliberately changing the orbit of a celestial object for the first time in history with a spectacular celestial crash and with it providing unique toolset for planetary defense? Or, .. which one?
Tomorrow, we hope to launch the JPSS-2 satellite, one of a series of spacecraft NASA is developing in partnership with NOAA. Once in orbit, this satellite will fly around the globe 14 times per day from pole to pole and send down data used worldwide for weather forecasting.
This will be my second to last launch in my in my job, this to be launched on an Atlas V launch vehicle. The first spacecraft launched after I joined NASA in 2016 was GOES-R, now sitting in geo-stationary orbit over the east coast and a key contributor to weather forecasts for the US and beyond. The GOES and JPSS series of NOAA missions have moved up the level of quality and impact of space for our home planet, and they have done that in a very significant manner.
Each and every day, these robotic emissaries provide information that is, in part, included into weather and space weather forecast and helps protect both human lives and property. They have contributed to significantly improved weather forecasting – the quality of many 2-day forecasts is now as good as 1-day forecasts were around 2010. And the forecasts of severe storms has also improved significantly, as has timely fire detection and lightning mapping to identify locations with strong convection near tornadoes, for example.
And like icing on the cake, we will launch a tech demo by NASA’s SpaceTech program, LOFTID, a hypersonic inflatable heat shield which is almost as big (6 m/20 feet) as the primary mirrors of JWST. It will undergo a short but rough ride, as it goes into space and re-enters with peak decelerations of Mach 29 and temperatures up to 3000 F before plunging into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. This tech demo charts the way for bigger landers on Mars enabling science and human exploration, for which currently proven entry descend and landing technology is insufficient.
So, which is my favorite mission? I am still struggling with the question, but frankly, JPSS-2 is on my short list: There are no space missions I have been involved with during my time at NASA that positively affect more lives each and every day. And with JPSS-2 on the launch pad today, I am proud of the amazing cross-agency, cross-industry team that got this spacecraft ready for its work in service of humanity. In particular, thanks to Steve Volz and his NOAA team for the excellent collaboration and friendship during the past 6+ years!
Go Atlas! Go JPSS2! Go LOFTID!

Acting NASA Science Associate Administrator

As I depart NASA at the end of this year, I can think of no one more fitting to take over my role than Sandra Connelly, our deputy. Please join me in congratulating Sandra Connelly as she serves as the acting NASA Science Associate Administrator & Eric Ianson, her acting deputy.


With Sandra’s 30 years of experience at NASA, I have no doubt that NASA Science will continue to thrive, as we search for our next Associate Administrator. I look forward to the scientific discoveries and achievements that are in NASA’s future.

The application for the next NASA Science Associate Administrator is open until November 21, 2022 at this link:

Congratulations to the Nobel Prize Winners

I have been thinking a lot this week about the power of curiosity and its ability to drive major change in the long run.

This past week, the Nobel Prizes were announced for the science of quantum theory, click chemistry and biorthogonal chemistry, and genetic research on extinct hominids and human evolution. As a physicist, I know the well-deserved Nobel in physics better than the others, but I have read quite a few articles on the others as well.

All of these prizes have a couple of things in common. Their underlying research is very much driven by curiosity, by questions like, “What if or how does this work?” However, more importantly, all of them resulted in outcomes that are useful and even transformational by what they’ve achieved and their promise to our communities. Whether it is new computational architectures, encrypted communication, novel cancer treatment, or unimaginable medical breakthroughs, the prizes have changed not only what we know, but have given humanity new tools to solve problems and create something that’s entirely new!

I give many talks about space missions (with the JWST pic shown below) and many people ask questions often along the lines of, “Why should we care?” In answering those questions, many have given me advice over the years to talk about startups and applications.

I think those responses are good, but here is what we learn: Over time, big curiosity driven science outperforms all expectations regarding their usefulness, beating any other short-sighted strategy hands-down! In fact, they’re at the heart of big transformations and unbound economic potential in ways no-one would ever dare to expect at the beginning.

The power of curiosity, expressed in questions like, “What if or how does this work?” tend to push back the boundary that separates what we know from the vastness of what we do not know.  This gives access to new thought and new solutions for problems not even yet recognized as important. The laser, the internet, countless medical devices, and weather forecasting are only a small number of such examples.

So, how do we learn how to be curious? The answer is simple: Pay attention to children and listen to their questions. Doing that, we learn that curiosity is part of us all of us as humans. We are all better off if we listen to the inner child within us all. Give it time and attention and resist drowning it out with busy work and the noise of loud voices.

Patiently answering the questions of our inner child full of curiosity has the potential to create huge impact and many benefits in the long run.

Transitioning to My Next Chapter

When Administrator Charlie Bolden interviewed me for my job in the fall of 2016, he started the meeting with a surprising question: “Thomas, why would you want this job? You are leaving a tenured position and you may be fired within a few months as the administration changes.” I reflected for a moment and answered, “because it is better to have an impact on this amazing program for a few months than to have no impact at all.”

This December, I will resign my position at NASA, about 3 months into the seventh year of the most impactful—and the most intense—job I have ever had: running the world’s leading program pursuing science in and from space, continually accelerating the speed of exploration and discovery, and inspiring millions to “dare mighty things.”

It has been a great ride. I resign as the longest continually serving associate administrator of science (*). This is not a goal Charlie and I had in mind when I started. Frankly, I just tried to do the best job I could — and help this science program I always loved and which has been intertwined with my career, from building part of an instrument as a graduate student, to proposing and winning multiple instruments and investigations, and finally, to my job as associate administrator.

I’ve had a tough time making this decision because I so love working with Team NASA Science and I doubt I will ever have a cooler job after this. There is no other job in the world that would let me work on more exciting missions, or that has more potential to affect scientific discoveries.

I am leaving for two reasons. I believe it is best for NASA, and especially the NASA Science community, and I believe it is best for me.

After 6+ years I feel I have had a chance to implement my best ideas. There are, without doubt, other great leaders with other amazing ideas that need to be tried, and the science community deserves the opportunity to give them that chance. Most importantly, the state of NASA’s Science program is strong and ready for that change now. It is a good time for a transition.

There is another reason for leadership change we do not like to talk about, generally. Each of us has weaknesses that also affect our organizations, and these weaknesses tend to weigh more heavily on organizations after a few years. That is why leadership changes are imperative for organizations who seek excellence.

On a personal level, I feel it is time for a change also. No, it is not because I am not having fun, or because I am less excited now, or because I’ve achieved any particular goal, or because bureaucratic forces are wearing me down. Simply, it is because I’m at my best when I learn new skills or gain new leadership experiences. I have achieved the key goals I set for myself when I took this job, and I will continue to struggle with the ones I am still struggling with, even if I stayed longer.

So, as I get ready for my final months at NASA, I want to tell our team members and partners how much I appreciate them.

First and foremost, I am thinking of our leadership team in NASA’s Science Mission directorate. I don’t think I have ever seen a stronger NASA science leadership team in my career as a scientist, but I know I am biased. We have an incredible set of talented individuals at headquarters doing hard work for the community each and every day. I wish more people could see the excellence and dedication I experienced for the past years.

But NASA’s science community extends well beyond that, to others at NASA HQ and Centers, to the growing number of industrial and academic partners, to our hard working colleagues in the White House or on Capitol Hill, and to our international partners, without whom we would not nearly be as good as we are. Thanks to all of you!

Exploring the secrets of the universe, searching for life elsewhere, protecting and improving life on Earth and in space are some of the most important and most impactful goals we can pursue as humans. And learning how to build excellent teams who can create historic missions today—and tomorrow—continues to be worthy of dedicating our lives to. I will spend a lot of effort recruiting candidates to apply for this most amazing (and challenging) job, and I hope many other friends of NASA will do the same.

Until I turn my badge in, I will continue to go “with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space,” just like Kennedy said during his famous speech 60 years ago, a motto I have used throughout my time at NASA. Then I will spend a lot more time with dear family and friends who have been my support system and a source of feedback throughout!

So—what will I do next? The answer is “take a break!”.  I have been notoriously bad at finding a new job while I am fully dedicated to the present one. Thus, my key goals in early 2023 will be spending time with family and friends, skiing on the Utah slopes, and going to the gym. I will also spend time processing what this most amazing job has taught me as a leader and as a scientist, and I want to talk to others about it.

After some time of focus and reflect, I will find what is next for me. And if I am very lucky, I will get to work with people who care as much about their work as my colleagues today do, each and every day!

(*) Ed Weiler spent more time in the position, but he did so in two appointments.

NASA’s Postdoctoral Program

In many ways, our investments in graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are the most important investments we make in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). These early career leaders are the talent pipeline of scientists that will lead the next generation, whether it is a new space telescope, a new modeling center developing predictive capabilities for the Earth that saves and improves lives, or new insights about the nature of our universe. We focus on these leaders by giving them time to grow, new opportunities, and also by providing then with a stipend commensurate with their achievements to date.

NASA’s SMD supports many graduate students and postdocs, most of whom work with academic partners who are engaged in our missions and research programs. We also have graduate students and postdocs who work at our NASA centers and gain important and unparalleled experiences. About 120–130  post-docs are funded each year for fellowships lasting up to two years through the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). With the recent award of a new, five-year contract to Oakridge Associated Research Universities (ORAU) for the management of the NPP, now seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the program.

Unique among postdoctoral programs, the NPP places its Fellows into NASA labs at NASA Centers. NPP Fellows work side-by-side with NASA’s world-class scientists and engineers on projects intimately related to NASA’s goals, objectives, and missions. The NPP has been open to non-US citizens for most of its existence. During the height of the recent COVID pandemic, long and unpredictable delays in the issuance of needed visas for non-US citizens resulted in NASA restricting applications to the program to US citizens and permanent residents. Happily, with the waning of the pandemic, visa wait times have become closer to the pre-pandemic norm and NASA is once again opening applications to the NPP to non-US citizens.

At the Fall 2021 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, NASA announced that it was raising the NPP base stipend to $70,000. Additionally, stipends are adjusted upward to account for the local cost of living. These changes should ensure that NPP Fellows are paid a just salary for their efforts.

Under the new contract, ORAU has created a Participant Assistance Program that offers financial and legal advice to NPP Fellows and their families as well as providing support for their mental health. This new program was something that NASA hoped would be proposed in the re-competition of the NPP management organization. ORAU is also working with NASA Headquarters to define some optional professional development activities for the NPP Fellows, such as proposal writing workshops. All in all, the NASA Postdoctoral Program is growing stronger in multiple ways.

This growth, though, has brought with it new costs. Some of the cost increases are due to the higher stipends; some are due to the additional services being offered to Fellows. Much of the increase, though, has come from simple inflation over the last five years. Since the new contract has not been in place for a full year yet, the full size of the cost increase is not yet known. However, projections of the potential annual cost for the program as SMD managed it — 130 Fellows at NASA Centers and JPL — are quite large. So large that they could amount to a non-trivial fraction of the SMD Support Budget. In order to maintain a balance between SMD’s missions and research, the size of the SMD Support Budget must be controlled. To this end, SMD is taking the following steps:

  1. To reduce the likelihood of rapid changes or lasting reductions in the number of NPP Fellows, the number of SMD-funded NPP Fellows will be reduced by 10% for the next year or two. This reduction will not be spread uniformly among all the Centers and JPL but will, instead be borne by those institutions that have the largest number of NPP Fellows, as well as other rationales to be decided on. These reductions will be implemented gradually over the next few application cycles.
  2. Cost increases for the remaining approximately 120 Fellows will be paid for by the five SMD science divisions out of their research budgets.
  3. While the number of NPP Fellows is reduced, SMD will be gathering information on the actual costs of running the NASA Postdoctoral Program under the new contract. If the actual costs are significantly lower than current projections, then the number of SMD-supported Fellows may be restored.
  4. An independent review team under the leadership of Dr. Paul Hertz will examine the NASA Postdoctoral Program and determine the extent to which the current program meets NASA’s objectives.

NASA strongly supports all graduate students and post-docs in our science disciplines including the NASA Postdoctoral Program and expects this period of reduced numbers of Fellows to be short — only one or two years. SMD is confident that once the above-described analyses and reviews are complete, the NASA Postdoctoral Program will emerge stronger than before.

-Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Science Associate Administrator

-Paul Hertz, Senior Advisor to the Associate Administrator

-Michael New, Deputy Associate Administrator for Research

Remembering an Important Lesson

As part of my studies in Astronomy at the University of Bern circa 1990, I had to learn how to measure very accurately positions and angles of stars in the sky. During a practicum class, we could apply the content within the classroom, and one of these experiments was to measure accurately, during the night, the angle between a telescope on the roof on the astronomy institute and a point near a local hotel called Kursaal.

I was reminded of that today when I stood on the roof of that hotel and looked in the direction of the university. I marked the points of university and hotel with red arrows.

There are two reasons this was meaningful to me today.

First and foremost, I just completed one of the most important goals of my career thus far, working as the NASA leader of the international team to make the biggest space-based astronomical telescope (JWST) ready for science. Obviously, I would have never guessed that my education would open doors for this kind of mega-goal. How do you make amazingly big leaps in your life and become part of history making changes? How do you prepare to help release pictures of the universe in ways we have never seen it?

The answer, for me, is that big leaps have a lot to do with deliberate and even cumbersome small steps. These may be specific lessons learned on a roof at night, or at night staring at a monitor on a dark desk, alone as others gave up earlier. But, that is not all: the rest is support from others and good luck – in real life we never control all variables, like a well-posed problem in school. That is why, most importantly, we never succeed with big successes by ourselves!

Secondly, I have been thinking a lot about managing life and time. I am in that hotel on vacation for a few days. Instead of having the planned 10 days off, I will only have 6, including weekends, as my free time has been eroding away due to other urgencies like Mars Sample Return, Psyche, budget discussions for 2024, and others. Why have I not learned how to take time off during the past 30 years? I may be worse at that than that young student on the roof in 1990.

The truth is that I have always been very dedicated to my work – from the time as a student to today. But, there are times I realize I still have to learn that dedication is not the same as always saying “yes”.

There are times I feel I have a lot of agency and I feel I am at or near my potential as a leader. Some of my best and most impactful decisions tend to come during these times. However, since early this year, I have been way more reactive as a leader than I want to be. I needed to travel to address a number of urgent issues and I keep falling behind.

Of course, I know deep within me that reactive leaders are not excellent leaders, so I need to “get on the horse and ride”, rather than “being pulled behind the horse, powerless”. But equally importantly, great leaders are also balanced leaders and manage to spend time for themselves, their family and friends.

So, looking across the river and remembering my formative university lessons, I am committing to myself to prioritize learning yet again. Learning about me, other people – especially those I love, about broadening my horizon, and about other things.

Yes, it is instructive to look at your younger self looking at you from across the river.

Reflections on Webb’s First Full-Color Images

What a week, one of my favorites during my nearly six years at NASA! It was such an amazing week because it was the culmination of decades of determination and overcoming challenges that led to one of the biggest and unquestioned successes.

Years of hard work and the efforts of thousands of people across the globe led us to the release of the first full-color images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on July 12. The reaction from people around the globe was incredible. To give you an idea, between July 11 – 14, there were over 1.4 million social media mentions of the Webb Telescope, and the topic was the top Google search in the United States! The story of Webb’s images reached so many; it was on the front page of 83 domestic newspapers and 45 international. There were nearly 10,000 traditional media stories written about the images, and over 1,500 TV stations covered the news.

Reflecting on this achievement, I am left feeling grateful and humble to have had a role in this moment in history. There are few times in history when we humans look at nature in an entirely new way, and Webb has already begun to make us do this with these new images. How amazing is it that we are alive right now and we are poised to gain new insight into the very foundation of our existence!

The deep gratitude I have is to the many individuals who enabled this mission and brought it to fruition. From the technicians to the scientists, everyone involved has given their best, worked extra hours, prevailed through hardship and have inched us closer to rewriting our cosmic history.

I could not be more proud of the Webb Team and everyone involved who has gotten us to where we are today. Thank you.

Now, the curtain is lifting on a new era of our cosmic story. Webb’s first full-color images are a reminder that we are but a small dot among billions of galaxies in the universe. Until now, we have never had the eyes to see the infancy of the universe, Webb is providing us with that vision in unprecedented detail. We are seeing details, stars and galaxies that humans have never seen before. What we are seeing is truly revolutionary.

To me, each of the images is a victory on its own. For example, the deep field with only 6 hours of integration immediately found galaxies older than 3 billion years – surely the “oldest galaxy” record is about to fall. What is more exciting to me that we also have compositional spectra of these galaxies. Modelers of star-formation and star-generations will have constraints previously inaccessible. But, I always try to look at pictures in two ways – as a scientist, but also just like observing nature or art like a child.

With that, looking at the Southern Ring Nebula and the Carina nebula is just stunning. Yes, it is about the story of star formation and the end of stars, but it is just incredibly beautiful and stunning even without the scientific explanation. Nature is beautiful, much more beautiful than we ever thought.

Finally, I loved the exoplanet spectrum – a Jupiter scale planet closer to its star than Mercury – and immediately water signatures show up with remarkably tight error bars. I can only imagine the charts we are going to look up in the whole spectrum and how we are going to learn about atmospheric composition of worlds that may or may not have the promise to harbor life.

As humans, we are intimately connected to these images. As I write this post, I look down at the gold and platinum rings on my hands and remember that these elements were likely created from merged neutron stars. Leftovers of stellar evolution – on my hand. Stellar processes and explosions of various kinds created the very elements we are made of as humans. We are made of star dust. With Webb, we’re going to peer through cosmic dust and see stars forming and dying in stellar explosions that eject material that seed new stars to be born. A violent cycle, but one that is essential.

We had seen before with Hubble that these star forming regions are stunning and provide us with enormous amounts of learning. Now, with Webb, we are looking at these stellar nurseries in new detail that will reshape how we understand the evolution of galaxies.

We are just beginning to write this next chapter in our cosmic history books and I could not be more excited to see what story Webb helps us tell. The fact that we can look into the universe and use what we learn to change the way we think about ourselves is one of the most profound things science can do.

It gives me hope to witness the power of humans as they achieve greater things in the face of adversity and create the impossible together. Thank you for joining us in this journey to unfold the universe.

Welcoming NASA Science’s New Astrophysics Division Director Dr. Mark Clampin

I am pleased to announce that I have made a selection to permanently fill the critical position of Astrophysics Division Director. Dr. Mark Clampin will join the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) on August 15. I want to extend my sincere appreciation to Paul Hertz, who has served as the Astrophysics Division Director for over 10 years. Paul’s efforts to SMD and the scientific community have brought us significant strides that will live on long after his tenure. Paul will continue in the SMD Front Office as a Senior Advisor.  


Mark has more than 25 years of extensive scientific, technical, management and programmatic experience, which includes over seven years in leadership roles. He has worked at the directorate, division, and branch levels, gaining valuable experience in the areas of operations, scientific research, and development.  


Currently, Mark serves as the Director of the Science and Exploration Directorate within the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He leads one of the Agency’s largest science organizations spanning SMD’s science disciplines. Mark is also a seasoned leader who sets scientific priorities for the GSFC Science and Exploration Directorate, which informs the deployment of key resources such as research and strategic investments, labor, technical equipment, and facilities.   



Prior assignments include Director of the Astrophysics Division, and Deputy Director within the GSFC Science and Exploration Directorate. In recognition of his outstanding leadership and career achievements, Mark was recently recognized with a Presidential Rank Award.   


Prior to joining NASA, Mark began his career with the European Space Agency, Johns Hopkins University, and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). His experience as a both as a leader and developer of astrophysics instruments and spacecraft uniquely qualify him for this critical leadership position with SMD. 


Please join me in welcoming Mark to Headquarters! 

Power and Danger of Optimism

At the core of every successful space mission is a team that is defined by their technical abilities, their perseverance, and especially their optimism – to fuel an entire journey of exploration and discovery. 
Motivated by their curiosity, they start to work on a project with a can-do attitude that may seem entirely unrealistic to many. As they go through iterations of their design, they hit hurdles, often putting into question their very ability to do this mission. Yet they stick with it, often defying odds, and holding on to the vision of the lofty goals they hope to achieve.  


This is the power of optimism bringing to life something that is much harder than it looks, and to have the resilience to continue despite the challenges. There is no question in my mind about the crucial role that optimism plays in what we do. 
However, if someone asks me about the biggest challenge I see in developing missions to not only be technically successful, but also to be within anticipated cost and schedule, the answer may surprise many: excessive and blinding optimism.  
Imagine yourself in a room listening to a team that is making a presentation about a new project – a project that truly makes your heart sing. They talk about the amazing possibilities and impacts, and they talk about their elegant technical solutions. Generally, and without any bad intent, teams will tend to over-stress the benefit and under-emphasize the challenges that go into this new design. If they don’t get through this buy-in phase, there is no mission!  
If you look at similar initial presentations from the point of view of wisdom gained during the 5-6 years of the development of this mission, this pitch – if not challenged by facts and deep independent analysis – becomes a jump off point that leads to deep regrets and agony for years to come. I have been in presentations where I wish I had caught that the assessments were simply unrealistic – assessments that can haunt an otherwise amazing engineering team for decades as they can’t match the reality to the original hope.   

Unmanaged excessive optimism can be harmful to the team in the long run and a reason for mistrust by the broader community.  It is therefore critical to address this issue and do so in ways that make success more likely. I have seen leaders address this quandary in multiple ways.  
The simplest but least successful way to tackle it is to take the optimists entirely out of the equation. Clearly, this solves the aforementioned challenges of the rude awakening of a project that was over promised and underfunded. But, it also pours the baby out with the bath water. Without optimism, and the desire to stretch, we remain in the comfort zone and ultimately lose the very thing we are supposed to do: attempt things that have never been done before.  
The second path is to identify and manage the impact of over-optimism using several specific tools. 
1. Create a trusted environment that encourages the team to voice their worries 
It is very easy to never get bad news, especially if you create an environment that publicly shames or even attacks the first person who brings up these points. Instead, reward those who are comfortable identifying and discussing their worries. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create an environment in which worries can be discussed without adverse consequences. A trusted environment does not happen automatically but requires vulnerability and humility from all sides.  
2. Deliberately create an independent and dispassionate view of the project 
Independent views are critical when we seek to achieve excellence. Having the input of a team that is free to analyze and speak their opinion is a welcome addition into the discussion. However, it is critical that the input truly is and demonstrably remains independent throughout the process. Otherwise, such independent assessments may make us feel better, but they surely do not add the desired value. It is also critical that these independent assessments focus on the core of the idea and not some bureaucratic aspect that is peripheral to the question whether or not a given mission is thoughtfully designed and planned. Otherwise, independent reviews become maligned entry points to bureaucratic creep. 
3. Continually build out the startup team by adding diversity of opinion, approach and backgrounds 
As a team starts maturing and moving towards detailed design and implementation, the optimistic leaders on the team continue to have a critical voice. But the team needs to improve both in depth and breadth. A team with a broadened viewpoint is less likely to fall in the trap of group think or sliding into an “us vs them” approach that tends to slow down the resolution of problems and may even grow small issues into huge challenges, while losing trust among stakeholders. 


Just as anything in life, moderation is key. As we continue to embark on these journeys of exploration, we must apply that same mantra. Optimism has great benefits and has been the igniting fuel to many success stories in space and beyond. But we should also stay vigilant to creating a culture where challenging viewpoints is welcome and the norm.  


I have made many mistakes over the five and a half years at NASA and over time have gained more experience about this important topic. I hope you too can take something from these lessons and apply them to your own worthy endeavors.