Category Archives: OpenNASA

Unplugged: Screaming Silence

Yesterday, I drove to work, only to realize I left my iPhone and iPad charging on the kitchen table. Once I arrived at work, I entered the “unplugged” void — isolation from humanity.

Hubble image of supernova.

Hubble image of supernova.

I logged on to my loaner laptop — my temporary replacement for the fried hard drive on my original laptop. The computer tech guys were coming soon to download email and docs onto the temporary laptop, so I hastily jotted down all my meeting times, call in numbers, and pass codes. I knew I was in trouble without my iPhone to remind me when meetings start and how to call-in.

Crazy Busy Calendar

The tech guys showed up and worked on my loaner laptop while I was on a call. They determined the laptop needed a bit more love, and asked if they could take it with them. I gave them the thumbs up — assuming I would get it back relatively quickly. Oh, the dashed hopes of the optimistically-inclined. Turns out, my loaner laptop had more issues than they anticipated. Looks like I’ll get it back Monday. That’s ok. I’m off work today (and I have access to my iPhone and iPad).

But, yesterday I didn’t! What a day to leave them at home. :\

I was forced to go old-school. My hand-scribbled notepaper calendar saved my day. But I was still flying blind. We’re so wired with our communications, that we generally log into a web-ex-ish meetings with a virtually-shared screen, OR we’re working off a document shared with everyone that we view on our own devices. Not me. I just listened and imagined what everyone was seeing. That’s ok. I have a vivid imagination.

My biggest issue: colleagues started calling me about urgent email they sent to me that I hadn’t acknowledged or responded to.

We’re in the day and age of never-ending data pile-on. Email artillery shoots back and forth in rapid fire, and decisions are made based on who responds first. Not responding or engaging is taken as tacit agreement, or indifference to the topic.

The silence was screaming at me — WHERE ARE YOU….WHY AREN’T YOU RESPONDING…DID YOU SEE THIS…SAY SOMETHING, WE’RE WAITING ON YOU…IF WE DON’T HEAR FROM YOU, WE’LL GO FORWARD!!!!!

"The Scream" by expressionist artist Edvard Munch

“The Scream” by expressionist artist Edvard Munch

As bewildering as the Screaming Silence of being unplugged, the cacophony of voices in email can be just as disorienting. As much as I hated the unplugged isolation yesterday, I find myself longing for a day when the silence might actually bring peace and tranquility. Ah, maybe that’s what retirement is all about. Nope, not ready for it…yet. ;)

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Filed under NASA, OpenNASA, technology

NASA Tweetup: Rocket Star @Astro_Wheels

After seeing Doug Wheelock in action this week in Washington DC, I’d like to give him a new title: Space Ambassador! Doug, aka @Astro_Wheels, shared heartfelt stories of his time in space during our latest NASA Tweetup, March 16, 2011.

@Astro_Wheels Living the Dream

Doug and Tracy Caldwell Dyson came to DC to debrief NASA employees on their Space Station Expedition missions, visit with Members of Congress and Hill staffers, and talk with space tweeps. We haven’t convinced Tracy about tweeting yet, but we might just wear her down after all — now that Doug is a fervent social media convert.

Astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson & Doug Wheelock

Astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson & Doug Wheelock at Capitol Visitor Center.

Doug joined an auditorium-full of space tweeps at the NASA tweetup. He shared stories and answered questions for several hours. Then he stayed to sign autographs and pose for pictures until the last tweep left the building. Wow. What a guy!

Tweetup Crowd Surrounds Astro_Wheels

Space Tweeps Surrounds Astro_Wheels

Tweetup Line for Astro_Wheels autograph

Doug gave them reason to stand in a long line for one-on-one time. During the Tweetup, he shared his awe and wonder about the vastness of space and the beauty of our home planet. He said that if he’d lived on another planet in the universe, Earth would have been the place he would most want to travel to.

Astro_Wheels describes Earth's ColorIn order to share his experience with those of us who will never leave this planet, he asked Mission Control for a camera lens and setting that most mimics what the human eye can see — so that he could let us see space through his eyes.  But, he told us, no photo does the Cupola views any justice. The broad brush strokes of auroras captivated his attention, and many photos as well. I’m obsessed with auroras, so I’m glad he shared so many with us.

@Astro_Wheels describes Auroras

@Astro_Wheels describes Earth@Astro_Wheels describes EarthWe learned details about life in space, like the violent ride to space on the Space Shuttle and the explosive return from space inside a Russian Soyuz. He described the smells of space: a musty odor like a wine cellar in the Russian modules, sterile computer-fan smell of the U.S. modules, and the burnt match smell of space that lingers on spacesuits for days. When asked how he felt after coming back to a gravity-filled life, he said he felt it most in his neck — from having to hold his head up.

@Astro_Wheels describes space smell

@Astro_Wheels describes Soyuz landing

@Astro_Wheels describes sore neckThings break on Station, making life “interesting” off planet. Tracy told NASA employees earlier in the day that residents of Space Station don’t have the luxury of zipping over to Home Depot for supplies. Doug recounted the experience on July 31st when the Space Station ammonia pump shut down, and life slowly drained from the orbiting spacecraft. Working closely with Mission Control on a fix, Doug and Tracy saved Station through a series of unplanned space walks. Space walks are are extremely physically challenging. Even though everything floats in space, Newton’s Laws of Motion still apply. Doug told us the hardest part of working is space is learning to maneuver with a light touch, rather than a push.

@Astro_Wheels describes ammonia pump repair

@Astro_Wheels describes ammonia leakDoug told us how his dreams changed using social media. Twitter allowed him to enter into a global conversation about space. Though he can’t take us all with him to space, social media tools allow him to bring us along for the virtual ride.

@Astro_Wheels describes hugeness of space

Describing Space, Astro_Wheels is speechless

Doug encouraged all of us to nurture the dreams of our children. They are our future, after all.

@Astro_Wheels talking to a future Mars-onaut at the NASA tweetup

@Astro_Wheels talking to a future Mars-onaut at the NASA tweetup

Thanks Doug for caring enough to share your amazing experiences in space. You ROCKet!

Tweet stats from @astro_wheels tweetupLast thought: who thinks the Space Station Expedition patch looks like Darth Vader’s helmet? ;)

Expedition 24 Mission Patch

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Filed under Earth, NASA, OpenNASA, social media

Gov 2.0 Hero Day

In celebration of Gov 2.0 Hero Day, I want to highlight a few visionary ROCKet stars at NASA: Robbie Schingler, Nick Skytland, Chris Kemp, Astronaut Mike Massimino, Astronaut and Innovator Ron Garan, and Sean Herron.

Robbie SchinglerRobbie Schingler: Chief of Staff, Office of Technology at NASA Headquarters. I met Robbie a few years ago in a Communications workshop. He was working at Ames at the time. Robbie is a powerhouse for change. He is the catalyst for much of NASA’s most innovative Gov 2.0 incubator projects: CoLab, OpenNASA, 2007 Participatory Exploration Summit, OpenGov, LAUNCH:Water sustainability forum, and Random Hacks of Kindness. Robbie tirelessly works to insert collaborative processes that can bring about social justice. Twitter: @schingler

Nick SkytlandNick Skytland: Project Manager, Johnson Space Center. I first met Nick at the 2007 Participatory Exploration Summit that Space Operations Mission Directorate and Innovative Partnership Office sponsored out at Ames. Nick is another energetic creative visionary at NASA. He and Robbie have teamed together for multiple Gov 2.0 collaborative projects including CoLab, OpenNASA.com and Random Hacks of Kindness. Rumor has it that NASA astronauts consult Nick on how to use Twitter effectively — but you didn’t hear that from me. He’s the Powerpoint Communications King. With a few simple words and pictures, he makes clear how social media can change how we do business at NASA. For me, Nick’s main claim to fame was snagging the @NASA account back in 2007 and holding it until the agency was ready to adopt Twitter as a communications tool. Twitter: @skytland.

Chris Kemp and Steve WozniakChris Kemp, NASA Chief Technology Officer for IT at Ames. Indefatigable is the word that comes to mind for Chris. I met Chris at the same Communications workshop where I met Robbie. Chris is a whirlwind of change. Through Chris, our office collaborated with Microsoft to use it Photosynth as a tool to share our on-orbit mission images of the Space Station and Shuttle. He worked with Google to bring about Google Moon.He’s best known outside the agency as Mr. NASA Nebula for the cloud computing initiatives he’s championed. Twitter: @ChrisCKemp

I’m always on the lookout for game changers — ideas, technology, people.

Robbie, Nick and Chris are passionate, energetic change-agents. Through the last few years, these three guys really taught me a great deal about the endless possibilities for change that social media offers. We’re lucky to have them at NASA.

Astronaut Mike MassiminoAstronaut Mike Massimino: Mike agreed to try out Twitter as the first astronaut to take social media in space with him during the STS-125 Hubble Repair Mission. He paved the way for all the other astronauts and many NASA folks to follow. Because of his thoughtful, poetic and often humorous tweets, he became a celebrity practically overnight. He has three times the followers the @NASA account does. He’s a Gov 2.0 hero because he caught the vision of social media and expanded to YouTube segments about space with his Behind the Scenes series. Twitter: @Astro_Mike

Astronaut Ron GaranAstronaut Ron Garan: I met Ron through NASA’s LAUNCH:Water sustainability forum last March. Ron’s Manna Energy water filtration and carbon credit model was selected as one of the ten innovations to present to a group of 40 international thought leaders. What is amazing about Ron is his humility (remember that he’s an astronaut) and passion for making the world better for those who experience the inequities in access to food, water, and basic necessities of life. Through Manna Energy, Ron worked in Rwanda on his own time to bring clean water and sanitation to over 300 schools. Twitter: @MannaEnergy

“Since the Kyoto Protocol was established, only a very small percentage of the carbon market has benefited developing areas; with Africa seeing only 2.5%. We believe economic sustainability and large scale success can be born from an innovative development model that leverages the emerging global carbon credit market and integrates advances in renewable energy, water purification, and other renewable technologies into a comprehensive and compelling offering.” —Ron Garan, Director, Manna Energy Ltd.

But the story isn’t over. Ron is training for a six-month mission on Space Station beginning March 2011. He’ll launch on Soyuz from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Right now, he’s in Star City, Russia training for his mission. His training is conducted in Russian. Next he trains in Japan. Then back to the Johnson Space Center. He’s my Gov 2.0 hero because he has an amazing vision for a unique interactive social media presence during his training and space travel. He wants to share space — virtually, AND shine a spotlight back on Earth and the needs on our planet. We’re working on pulling together a really cool virtual space place where we can all gather to celebrate his life off-planet, and projects that make life better for those living on-planet. Stay tuned for more details in the near future. Twitter: @Astro_Ron

Astro_Ron in Sokol Spacesuit

Sean HerronSean Herron, Syracuse student and NASA intern. Sean worked with me in the Space Operations Mission Directorate and Robbie on Open Gov issues. Sean is someone to keep watch for in the future. He is fluent in social media and helped shape NASA’s Open Gov Plan with Robbie Schingler. He started a blog on the NASA People site to offer insights on his experiences at NASA. He was our voice on the LAUNCH:Water twitter account, and so much more. Sean gives me hope for our future. I hope he goes on to get his graduate degree then comes back to NASA for a long and fruitful career. Twitter: @SeanHerron

Yes, I notice that I’m only highlighting men. We have a number of game-changing women in leadership in the IT arena, but I don’t travel in their circles. I hope others will celebrate their Hero-ness today, as I celebrate these Gov 2.0 Guys.

Thank you Robbie, Nick, Chris, Mike, Ron and Sean for leading the way to NASA’s future in the Social Space Frontier!

Cross post on GovLoop.com.

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Filed under astronaut, federal government, leadership, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space, water

STS-132 Launch Tweetup: It’s a Wrap!

What a thrilling experience to witness a Space Shuttle launch. Even better to share it with 150 space tweeps from across the U.S and overseas. We just wrapped our STS-132 launch tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday. Many are still in Florida or in the process of traveling back home.

STS-132 Launch from Press Site. Credit: NASA

STS-132 Launch from Press Site. Credit: NASA

So hard to leave newfound space buds to come back home. And, who has time to process all the pics and videos when we’re all still tweeting about the experience?

I finally finished downloading all my iPhone pics last night after flying home yesterday afternoon. Mine are no match for the amazing pics I’ve seen from space tweets with high quality lens cameras. I quit taking my camera once I got the iPhone. I can at least capture memories with a device that fits in my pocket.

So what IS a tweetup? What’s the point?

Atlantis framing my tweetup badge

Atlantis + my tweetup badge.

Two-part answer: For some, a tweetup is simply a time and place for digital colleagues to meet in flesh and blood. For NASA, a tweetup is an opportunity for us to grant space tweeps inside access to our aMAZing space people and projects.

You might consider it a Pay-It-Forward for tomorrow’s space endeavors.

We brought in a number of speakers to share insight into, expertise about, and EMOTIONS around the job we do at NASA. (Most notable for me: Chris Meinert, the last guy to shut the hatch on STS-132 crew. He choked up sharing thoughts about the STS-107 Columbia crew. Overwhelming moment for all of us in the tent.)

NASA's Chief Technology Officer, Bobby Braun

NASA's Chief Technology Officer, Bobby Braun

Speakers for L-1:

  • Bobby Braun, NASA Chief Technologist
  • Astronaut Janice Voss
  • Jon Cowart @Rocky_Sci, NASA engineer
  • Stephanie Stilson, Space Shuttle Orbiter Processing Director
  • Ron Woods, NASA spacesuit designer

We toured the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, capping L-1 with a trip to the Launch Pad for the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) rollback. What a thrill for all of us!

STS-132 Launch Tweetup. Credit: Paul Alers

STS-132 Space Tweeps in front of Atlantis L-1. Credit: NASA's Paul Alers

Launch day (or L-O) began with a group pic in front of the Countdown Clock. A number of tweeps missed the pic. Traffic is a bear on launch day. I made it just in time. Here’s another Where’s Waldo pic.

STS-132 Space Tweeps with Countdown Clock

STS-132 Space Tweeps pose with Countdown Clock. Credit: NASA's Paul Alers.

Speakers for L-0

  • Lori Garver @Lori_Garver, NASA Deputy
  • Patrick Barrett, Weather Officer
  • Chris Meinert, STS-132 Closeout crew
  • Madi Sengupta @msengupta, Johnson Space Center Space Station Robotics instructor
  • …and Bobby Braun came back for round 2 questions. Yay!
NASA Deputy Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Lori Garver

We also debuted a cool new social media aggregation tool called NASA Buzzroom. You can be part of the space conversation whether or not you have a Twitter account. OR, you can sign in through Twitter to keep the discussion going. Try it. See what you think.

Space Tweep Society Mascot inspecting Buzzroom

Space Tweep Society Mascot inspecting new NASA Buzzroom

So, SO many tweeps asked how they could EVER repay NASA for the privilege of coming to the Tweetup.

For me, the answer is simple.

  • Keep the buzz going.
  • Share this amazing thing called space with all your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, school kids, elders and people you meet on the street.
  • Tell everyone who will listen about the stories you heard, what you saw, and how you felt during your visit to space wonderland, the Kennedy Space Center.
  • Blog, tweet, facebook, youTube, twitpic, flickr your hearts out. (Yes, I use these brand names as verbs now….)
  • Come back for MORE space events as we evolve the social media space community.

How cool is the space biz, after all? Not geeky cool. Just plain cool!

I mean, look at what we do for a living. We break the bonds of gravity each time we lift off Earth. We’re learning to live and work in peace with multiple cultures and languages onboard the International Space Station 24/7 as it orbits the Earth at 17,500 mph every 90 minutes.

We solve problems AGAINST ALL ODDS!

Here’s one example of the payback NASA receives for hosting tweetups: space art by John @Apollo1 in New Jersey, who attended the STS-129 tweetup in November. This is WHY we host tweetups! Check it out!

Tweet by @Apollo1 ShuttleFlower dedicated to STS-132 crewIs hosting a Tweetup worth the effort? ABsoLUTEly!!!!

Here’s my little iPhone photo gallery from the tweetup. For those of you who attended, I had a great time meeting you (if we hadn’t already met)!!! You’re amazing! Thanks SO MUCH for caring enough to spend your own money to travel to Florida to spend two days with us. Godspeed as you journey home!

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Filed under astronaut, leadership, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space, tweet-up

Ideas on How to Open NASA? Spill!

Are you someone who knows exactly what it takes to make NASA the best agency possible? Do you doodle ideas on cocktail napkins and mail them to a NASA Center? Do you wake up early in the morning to watch Space Shuttle launches (like this morning’s 4:14 a.m. EST STS-130 launch) or stay up all night for mission coverage of Space Station? Do you wish you could wear a NASA badge and sit in a cubicle somewhere in the bureaucratic maze at a NASA installation?

Have we got a job for you!

Get your creative juices flowing. Capture all your ideas. We’re listening. You have until March 19, 2010 to share your ideas with us about how NASA can be more:

  1. Transparent,
  2. Participatory,
  3. Collaborative, and
  4. Innovative.
OpenGov NASA idea sharing site

OpenGov NASA idea sharing site

We’ve deployed a cool idea-sharing tool to let you give input, comment on input of others, and vote ideas up or down. Your ideas will feed into NASA’s Open Government Plan. You need an account first, but that’s as simple as adding your e-mail and a password.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

Submit an Idea

Submit an idea

And if you find any ideas by me in the system, feel free to give them a generous thumbs up!  (I’m just getting started….)

OpenGov/NASA idea

OpenGov/NASA innovation idea

OpenGov/NASA People's Choice Award

OpenGov/NASA People's Choice Award

“We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” – John Gardner 1965

Let’s tackle those opportunities!

Crosspost on GovLoop and OpenNASA.

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Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space

FlashForward: LOS, please?

A funny thing happened to me in the NASA Headquarters lobby this week. I encountered a colleague I haven’t seen in a while. She posed this question:

What have you been doing with your life?

Innocent question on her part. My reaction: TILT!

My brain: Tilt!

My brain: Tilt!

The connections in my brain overloaded, then broke down. Total Loss of Signal — like when Mission Control can’t talk with the astronauts. When I snapped back, I realized I’d experienced a flash forward moment — a time in my life when I have absolutely NOTHING to do.

No deadlines, no distractions, nothing on my list. Utter bliss!

But to answer her question, one word escaped my lips, “Work.”

Atlantis crossing over Africa

Atlantis crossing over Africa

In my mind, strobe-light images from the last few weeks danced in my head:

  • STS-129 Tweet-up down at KSC,
  • STS-129 launch, mission, landing,
  • NASA Facebook updates in the wee hours,
  • Twitter space talk 24/7
  • SpaceSmart metrics and design project,
  • LAUNCH:Water sustainability forum, and
  • Space Operations budget review…

Oh… just a sampling of the things that keep me awake at night.

She gave me a horrified look, and said,

“But what are you doing for yourSELF?”

Once again, my mind kicked into overdrive. For the month of November alone, I pictured:

  • over 50,000 words typed over 30 days of literary abandon in November’s National Novel Writers Month NaNoWriMo,
  • 11 blogposts on this site,
  • several guest blogposts on OpenNASA and GovLoop,
  • reading and responding to hundreds upon hundreds of Twitter updates,
  • Thanksgiving preparations and  time with my daughters, and
  • time with God every single day — the very BEST thing I do for myself.
  • Oh, and the dreaded Black Friday!
Black Friday Madness

Black Friday Madness

But, who wants to hear any of that? Really.

So, I responded, “Nothing.”

Seeing that she found my answer inconceivable, I asked what she’d been doing lately. After all, that was the real question, now wasn’t it? She listed Kennedy Center performances, trips with friends, volunteering for worthy organizations, and much much more. I listened to all the wonderful things she was doing and thought to myself,

I really, really want a day of nothing. Just plain nothing.

I think I even said that to her. It’s all a blur. I don’t recall her validating my desire for nothingness.

I get that I choose this frenetic life of mine.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, I can still dream about a simple time — my own personal Flash Forward Loss of Signal. A time when my internal Mission Control goes silent. No more things to do. All is quiet. Peace at last.

After a moment or two in this alternative universe, boredom would come for a visit, most likely. I would find myself daydreaming of new missions to accomplish.

Hmmm. We’ll probably never know, will we? But, for now, I  better get busy. My list is long. This IS the Christmas season after all. No time to rest. ;)

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Filed under NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space, tweet-up, writers

Social Media Awards: My Picks

Mashable.com is hosting the 3rd Annual Open Web Awards Social Media Edition. Pete Cashmore set up awards that ensure we keep the buzz going linking back to his site. Brilliant! We can nominate our favorites in multiple social media-related categories.

The catch: we nominate once a day in each of the 50 categories through November 15th…AND only the top five nominations in each category move forward to the voting round.

Basically, the nomination period is a semi-final round. Mashable ensures users return to his site day after day, and tweet their results. Great PR for Mashable. He’s creating a social media frenzy by rewarding the social media frenzy. Like I said, brilliant.

Gotta’ love Pete. Wish we had him on our team!

With the few days left for nominations, I thought I’d share a couple of NASA-related choices (plus one or two).

Here are my nominations:

Tweet of the Year:

Tweet from Space by Tw-astronaut @Astro_Mike Massimino.

STS-125: First ever tweet from space

STS-125: First ever tweet from space

Funniest Tweet:

Tweet about life after space by @Astro_Mike.

Life After Space

Gravity Reality: Life AFTER Space

Twitter User of the Year: @Astro_Mike — over 1 million followers!

Most Inspiring to Follow: @Astro_Mike.

Best Brand Use of Twitter: NASA.

Best Brand Use of Facebook: NASA.

Best Brand Use of YouTube: NASA YouTube.

Best Flickr Photographer: NASA’s Bill Ingalls

Best Online Video Web Series: Mike Massimino’s “NASA Behind Scenes” series.

Best Non-Profit Use of Social Media: NASASpace Tweep Society + OpenNASA.

TwitPic of the Year: French Photographer Thierry LeGault’s spectacular shot of the STS-125 Hubble repair mission in front of the Sun. (FYI: NASA provided the camera to enable Thierry to capture this image.)

Thierry LeGault's image of STS-125 mission

Thierry LeGault's image of STS-125 mission

Best Musical Artist to Follow: Tom Fletcher of McFly

I know you’re thinking the last one doesn’t fit under the space theme. Think again. (See previous posts.)

Call to ACTION: You only have a few days left to give space a chance in the universe of social media. Make your voice count.

Crosspost on OpenNASA.

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Filed under Gov 2.0, NASA, OpenNASA, social media, space

Space: A Waste?

NASA Facebook fans are a chatty bunch. We post something of interest going on at NASA. Fans talk about it. They like it. They dislike it. They have an idea for how to change it. But, for the most part, they’re supportive of our efforts. It is, after all, a “fan” page.

Lately I’ve noticed a few unhappy folks who post little “This is a waste of time” zingers. I really find it fascinating. If the information we’re posting is a waste of their time, why do they spend time on the NASA fan page?

Timbuktu Credit/NASA

Timbuktu Credit/NASA

I’m intrigued by the “waste of time” mentality.

Ok, I admit it. I’ve had similar thoughts about meetings or work products I considered a waste of my time. After all, I work for Uncle Sam…Big Brother…the Feds. I find I’m most frustrated when my time is expended against my willI wouldn’t dream of posting my time-waster list…well, maybe I might. ;)

Back to the point. When someone writes “This is a waste of time” on NASA’s Facebook wall about the Timbuktu image above, I have to wonder…as compared to what? Their frame of reference would be so telling. Wouldn’t it? For instance:

  • Reading a book is a waste of time when you could be fishing.
  • Fishing is a waste of time when you could be working.
  • Working is such a waste of time when you could be spending time with family.
  • Family time is such a waste when you could be traveling.
  • Traveling is such a waste of time when you could be volunteering.
  • Volunteering is such a waste of time when you could be making money to donate.

Look at the context in these examples. One choice is pitted against another. We tend to do that, don’t we?

Don’t we make judgments about choices others make based on our own value-based choices?

Here’s what I notice: we humans often expect others to share our views and values. If they don’t, we like to cast them as our enemy. We’re good. They’re bad. That simple.

But really, it’s not simple at all. Just because I value something doesn’t mean you have to value it too. Yes, I’d LOVE everyone to agree with me on EVERYthing. But, I’m no less valid in my choices or opinions than you are in yours. (You’re probably shaking your head right now, thinking how I’m idealistic and unrealistic I am.  You won’t be the first to think it.) Hear what I’m saying.

Life is all about balance.

We each bring to the table different and unique attributes for the greater whole. Synergy! The same goes for NASA. So, let’s explore how the federal government works, shall we?

Civics 101: The government exists to provide the public good. We fill the gap between:

  1. the needs of the common man, and
  2. profitably ventures attractive to commercial entities.

The pursuit of knowledge (i.e. NASA endeavors or basic science) isn’t profitable. But once we pursue the unknown, gain knowledge, and share what we’ve learned, THEN the opportunity exists for someone to take it and run all the way to the bank.

For instance, what we’re learning about humans existing in long-duration space onboard Space Station may help address the debilitating effects of osteoporosis on here on Earth. A drug company MAY use this information to manufacture and sell an “antidote” to brittle bones.  Yay for them!

We discover knowledge that leads to a product that meets a need someone is willing to pay for. Or, IF the need is worthy and a commercial entity can’t make a profit, we’re back to the government providing it. The cycle circles back on itself.

Society = balance of public good + commerce.

In reality, the argument boils down to managing the appropriate balance among the nations’ priorities to best bring about public good.

Civics 101, Part 2: The White House and Congress determine the nation’s priorities.

  1. The White House sets the agenda, and
  2. Congress holds the purse strings.

NASA receives less than 1% of the federal budget. Even if I do say so myself, we accomplish aMAZing feats with that partial penny on every dollar given us by Congress.

What can YOU do with less than a penny?

So back to the question, is space a waste? Again I ask: as compared to what?

Personally, I feel the time and energy I spend exploring unknown places or books or foods or experiences is never wasted. Every time I learn something new, I know more than I did the moment before. Even when the experiences are painful, I’m still wiser than before. Can that knowledge ever be wasted?

What if I share what I learned with you, and it:

  • saves you time,
  • streamlines your effort,
  • prevents harm, or
  • gives you insight on places or people you’ll never see?

What we discover at NASA changes textbooks! Generations upon generations of humans will benefit from the sacrifice our nation made to fund the space program, in an effort to learn what we don’t know. In the meantime, our government also took care of housing for the homeless, education for students, subsidies for farmers, benefits for veterans, security of our borders, and so much more. We can debate the balance of funds distributed, but it was ALL in an effort to bring about the public good…as determined by the White House and Congress.

Civics 101, Part 3: Citizens, if you disagree with how your tax dollars are spent, you speak loudest through your right to vote (as opposed to a fan page on the internet).

In the meantime, I’ll see you on Facebook! :-D

Crosspost on openNASA.

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Filed under culture, federal government, NASA, OpenNASA, space

NASA: Cultural Dust Storm

When everyone was looking for moondust from the LCROSS mission to crash land into the moon, I noticed something else — a cultural dust storm inside the agency. Did you see it too?

We heavily publicized the “moon landing” prior to Friday’s event. In Washington DC, the Newseum hosted our “Let’s Kick Up Some Moon Dust” party. (Even my mother received an email from NASA inviting her to attend. Not sure exactly how THAT happened. No matter.)

Moon Dust Invitation

I was off work on “LCROSS day,” so I logged onto NASA TV to watch the lunar impact. I mean, really. Who DOESn’t want to see moon dust? Watching the mission coverage, though, took me by surprise.

Stop! Before I go any further, I must in all fairness disclose that I work the “human space flight” side of the house at NASA. I say this only to put in context my perspective. I’m accustomed to years upon years (yes decades even) of Space Shuttle launch and Space Station on-orbit coverage — the hushed, almost flat voices of our Public Affairs folks doing commentary, the CapCom astronaut speaking to the crew, and crew responses. Calm. Even. Almost hypnotic. (No offense guys. I’m just trying to frame my point.)

Back to LCROSS coverage. I listened to chatter between the console folks — camera commands, I believe. Some of the voices struck me as jarring. Maybe it was early in the morning, but I found myself reacting to the sound of the voices. (InCREdibly petty. I know. I know. Who cares what they sound like, right? It’s the mission that’s important! Yes, I get it. Really I do. I’m merely describing my reaction.)

I watched the tiny NASA TV window on my laptop as the spacecraft rocketed closer and closer. I listened to the Go/No Go count and wondered about the spacecraft barreling toward the moon. Could we even turn it around if someone voted “no-go?” Hmmm. Not my mission.

I captured screenshots and posted them on Twitpic. I personally love this near-infrared shot below. I think it would make cool Moon art.

Lunar Surface prior to Impact

Impact! We hit the moon, didn’t we?

Yes, the announcer confirmed “contact”…as in crash landing. I was a bit confused. My little NASA TV screen only showed gray fuzziness. The announcer revealed a second impact. Hard to tell. I was still watching blurry images on my computer.

Further confirmation: NASA TV switched to images of arm slapping/hand shaking in the control room, then camera views somewhere outside where we could see happy people in lawn chairs. Then, back to the Control Room:

The Flight Director stood up, put his hands on his hips, and looked directly into the camera. Odd.

Twitter lit up with Moon Dust…or lack thereof…chatter. Some out in the vast twitterverse cheered the achievement. Some expressed anger at NASA for “bombing” a gentle giant. Some voiced confusion about what happened (mirroring my reaction). Some made fun of the coverage.

The social media world joined in for a global conversation about space. Differing opinions, some unflattering, but conversation none-the-less.

I’ve been thinking about my reaction to mission coverage and wondering what it says about me. I’ll be honest, compared to a Shuttle launch, LCROSS felt like the minor leagues. Does that mean I’m arrogant? I’ve really struggled over the weekend to understand WHY I felt underwhelmed by the “Kick Up Some Moon Dust” experience (other than the fact that we didn’t witness a massive cloud of dust — which may mean water).

Here’s what hit me last night: the culture clash between human vs. robotic, engineering vs. science.

I’ve noticed, through my many years at NASA, that our engineers want to tweak perfection, while our scientists want gather more data, to ask one more question, try one more approach. The LCROSS mission is a success because it’s one more approach to asking another question so that we better understand what questions to ask. Their scientific mission is just beginning with lunar impact. Our human space flight missions, in contrast, end upon touchdown or docking — when we safely arrive at our destinations.

We’ve been doing this Shuttle thing for quite some time. The culture of how we do what and what is acceptable is quite ingrained. Launch coverage and mission control cultural norms rule. I fell victim to my human space flight cultural heritage when I subconsciously compared “our” launch coverage with “their” launch coverage…and giggled. Yes, I admit. I giggled — which is not fair to the serious work behind the mission. I feel very rude. Scientific, robotic missions are ruled by different cultural norms.

Look no further than the contrast between the Houston Mission Control “flat-top” and the California “flip-flop” mentality. Both approaches get the job done — just differently.

Now that I’ve had a few days to process, I apologize to all you LCROSS folks. I let my cultural bias cloud (moon dust?) my perception of your mission coverage. Though, I do hope your Hi-5 guy gets a shot at the late-night comedy shows. He deserves a shout out!

Bravo LCROSS. Ignore NASA’s cultural dust storm. We expect your results to “water” it down.

Cross post on OpenNASA.

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