Tag Archives: Facebook

Women of the World. Literally!

STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery lit up the dawn sky this morning as she broke free from gravity’s grip to reach low Earth orbit on her way to the International Space Station.

Lift off! STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo: NASA TV

Lift off! STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo: NASA TV

Onboard Discovery, three female astronauts: NASA’s Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger and Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They will join Space Station Expedition 23 crewmember Tracy Caldwell Dyson.

Four women in space at the same time! How cool is that?!?

Tracy, Dottie, Stephanie, Naoko

Tracy, Dottie, Stephanie, Naoko

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Naoko will tweet during the mission. You can follow @Astro_Naoko in English AND Japanese. Space Station is like our Space United Nations (S.U.N) with multiple nationalities and languages. ;)

Tweet from @astro_Naoko

Tweet from @Astro_Naoko

Not only did we launch three female astronauts into space onboard a rocketship this morning to join the fourth on Space Station, but we also launched our NASA Deputy Lori Garver into the Twittersphere with her first tweet from launch at the Kennedy Space Center. You can follow her tweets @Lori_Garver.

In fact, one of Lori’s first tweets inspired this blogpost.

NASA's Deputy Lori Garver. Photo: NASA

NASA's Deputy Lori Garver. Photo: NASA

Lori also launched her Facebook fan page this morning. NASA’s social media presence ROCKets!

So, girls out there in the universe: Take hope. Aim high. Work hard. Never let a little “no” stop you. Your WORLD awaits you, as we have proof today.

4 females in space. April 7, 2010

4 females in space. April 7, 2010

Crosspost on GovLoop and OpenNASA.

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Filed under astronaut, Earth, leadership, NASA, social media, space

Life Off-Planet Affects Planet-Bound

In a discussion thread on NASA Facebook, several asked:

What do we get out of research that supports humans traveling off this planet, since the rest of us don’t get to tag along for the ride?

I decided to post my thoughts here. This is, by no means, a comprehensive argument for space. Rather, I offer a few brain bubbles on the topic…to get them out of my head, really. So here we go:

Most advancements in science and technology from space are used here on Earth to benefit humans living on this planet.

Shuttle docked at Space Station 220 miles over Earth

Take the issue of radiation. The sun bombards this planet every day. Look at the alarming rate of skin cancer. I know it well. I lost my Daddy to it. Outside the thin blue line of protection our atmosphere gives us, radiation is much worse. We protect our Space Station crews as best we can. But they’ve taken extra precautions, lining up water containers against the walls in certain areas to give them more protection.

Going out further in space, humans will endure much greater exposure to radiation. Any anti-radiation measures we create for space travel will find their way to market back on Earth. That’s just the way it works. We invest in the solution. You benefit from the technology.

What about the humans who sign up to go “out there.” Why should anyone on Earth care what happens to them, right? I mean, they applied for the job. They volunteered. So what do we (the planet-bound) get out of their choice?

Astronauts are human science experiments.

@StationCDRKelly tweets about drawing his own blood for Station science

Astronaut Scott Kelly tweets about Station Science

Astronauts get poked and prodded, spun around, submerged under water, crushed under g-forces, and suffer bone loss — all in the name of science. Oh yeah, they float weightless too. Well, that’s another grand experiment in itself.

Space pioneers, and their families, endure great danger and discomfort to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. They willingly sacrifice themselves for what we don’t know — to advance the cause, to break the code, to peek under the curtains. If we knew everything we ever needed to know about the Universe in our how-to-live-on-planet-Earth guide book, we wouldn’t need pioneers to go out there and  scout out answers for us.

Space Station sodium chloride crystal

Space Station experiment: sodium chloride crystal. Credit: NASA

Humans who travel outside the boundaries of Earth teach us about living and working in a hostile environment with constrained resources. Their space ship is a closed–loop, self-contained biosphere — just like Earth.

Our home planet is a self-contained biosphere with finite resources surrounded by hostile environment of space.

220 miles overhead on Space Station: we make our own energy (solar), recycle our waste water, filter our air, and conserve all our resources. Astronauts/cosmonauts use considerably less water and energy per person than the average AmericanNot by choice really. By necessity. Just like the many citizens of this planet who live without easy access to water or electricity or clean air.

Off-planet living= green living!

We are working to apply these efficiencies back home to help conserve precious water and energy and air on Earth.

And don’t forget this one: unparalleled point of view from SPACE.

We give you a no-borders look at our fragile planet from the outside in.

NASA imagery offers us the big picture view of deforestation, shrunken polar cap, massive weather patterns and more. We help nations address global issues that might not be visible standing on the front porch. Our eyes (cameras and satellites) capture the whole planet for objective analysis.

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon. Credit: NASA

We can’t solve all the world’s problems, nor is it our charter; however, we push the envelope. The issues we face off this planet are the Earth’s issues, but magnified.

Make no mistake, Earth faces the same issues: as we stretch our limited resources across the globe to meet the needs of the world’s population. I can say this with certainty based on our 50-year history at NASA:

Whatever we learn about humans living outside this planet will be leveraged to make life safer and better here on Earth.

Your life may depend on it.

Two NASA links you may find of interest: NASA technology and the story of the Universe.

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Social Media=Traditional Media News

The world is collapsing upon itself. Or so it seems sometimes.

On Friday, I received this Facebook message:

Facebook Message

Facebook Message

No. I didn’t post a color to my Facebook status. I didn’t quite connect the color of my bra with breast cancer awareness.  Plus, I have strong views on how society views women. (See my blogpost:  “Inaction Heroes for Girls.”)

I’m not opposed to the idea of spreading awareness for breast cancer. This bit of fun just didn’t tickle my fancy…. The concept is clever, though, as a way to get a buzz going. I’m just not the “bra buzz” type.

The point of this post is not about this particular story, but rather about the relationship between social media and traditional media.

I just opened yesterday’s Washington Post (I know, I’m behind in my reading) to find an article about the bra buzz and how Susan G. Komen foundation saw a flurry of new fans.

Breast cancer awareness goes viral on Facebook . . . with bra color updates” by Brigid Schulte.

Social media is “the news” for traditional media.

Fascinating turn of events, really. Social media spreads news faster than traditional news outlets (earthquakes, Hudson River water-landings, etc.) but also becomes the news because of how fast information is spread.

So the cycle turns on itself.

Traditional news sources report the news. Viral spread of social media makes news. Therefore, traditional media reports the news of news spread through social media. Makes my head spin.

I shouldn’t be surprised to see articles like these in the paper. (And especially this one. Bra Color, i.e. “sex sells”…right?) But, let’s stick to the topic of social media. I’ve read so many articles over the last year or so about social media by those who don’t use it (and don’t see the point of it because they don’t use it). Reporters at the STS-129 tweet-up asked similar questions.

But funnier still:

why do I still have the Washington Post delivered to my door when I get most of my news through social media?

The answer? Tradition, I guess. ;)

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Twittersphere: Social Space Frontier

Non-twit-oholics always ask me, “What’s the point? Why Twitter?”

I’m sorry. That’s like asking me, “Why chocolate?”

My answer, “Take the first bite, then we’ll talk.”

But, some still need convincing. I mean really. You know those types. The ones who look at the chocolate cheesecake with swirls of whipped cream…and walk away. Yeah, those guys. They need a bit more convincing.

If you’re one of them, here ya’ go. Maybe you’ll see what NASA sees out in the social space frontier. Feel free to join us there.

Social media offers new ways for NASA to interact with non-traditional audiences in a dynamic, viral conversation about space, the merits of exploring the unknown, and its relevance to every day life here on our home planet. For the first time, citizens of this planet can talk to scientists, engineers, policy-makers, and space travelers.

Of all the new media tools available to us, Twitter offers the most intimate, immediate 24/7 access through mobile devices, laptops, and/or traditional keyboard access.

In 140 characters or less, breaking space news pings around the world and back again.

STS-125, the Space Shuttle mission to repair Hubble, marked the first NASA mission where we actively engaged global citizens through social media – Twitter, blogs, Facebook.

Mike @Astro_Mike Massimino became the first astronaut to use twitter before, during, and after his mission.

In four short months, he broke one million followers — making him a Massimillionaire! His willingness to tweet during the complex Hubble repair mission captivated media and non-media alike, and propelled @Astro-Mike to superstardom.

Name of the game: access. Through @Astro_Mike, NASA granted outsiders access into an elite insider circle.

Twitter offers us a simple new tool to help make space popular within the non-space crowd, and see traction on our goal to elevate “space” within pop culture. One measure of success: Twitter featured @Astro_Mike as one of Twitter’s top accounts on their front page, along with the likes of Hollywood’s Ashton @aplusk Kutcher who tops 3.9 million followers now.

NASA made it to Twitter’s Top 10 trending topics a number of times during the mission, and in subsequent missions. For the social media generation, @Astro_Mike gained hero-status akin to John Glenn or Neil Armstrong of the “Right Stuff” generation. Now others at NASA have followed his footsteps into the Twittersphere.

And you can too.

Here’s a list of current Astronaut Twitter Accounts (in no particular order): @NASA_Astronauts 10,238 followers

@StationCDRKelly: Scott Kelly 1,973

@ShuttleCDRKelly: Mark Kelly 1,844

@Astro_Jeff – Jeff Williams 3,447

@Astro_Nicole – Nicole Stott 6,253

@Astro_Sandy – Sandy Magnus 3,769 (no longer active)

@Astro_Jose – Jose Hernandez 59,241

@Astro_Tim – Tim Kopra 8,720

@Astro_Mike – Mike Massimino 1,157,551

@Astro_127 – Mark Polansky 40,581 (no longer active)

@Astro_Bones – Bobbie Satcher 1,761

@Astro_Flow – Leland Melvin 992

@CFugelsang – ESA/Christer Fuglesang 3,905

@Astro_RonRon Garan 1,197

@Astro_Soichi – JAXA/Soichi Noguchi 677

@Astro_TJ – TJ Creamer 58

STS-129 Mission will blast off the planet on Monday, November 16 with Twitternauts @Astro_Bones and @Astro_Flow. PLUS, we’re hosting our first Launch Tweet-Up at the Kennedy Space Center. More updates as time allows.

Learn more about the mission and NASA. You can fan UP on NASA’s facebook too.

Cross post on GovLoop.

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Time Warp…or Memory Wormhole?

I attended my 35-year high school reunion last weekend in San Marcos, Texas. Going back after all these years is like waking up to a world where everything changed overnight. At least, that’s how it felt to me.

People and places are frozen in my memory just as they were in 1974.

We moved to Austin right after high school. Without having my parents as an anchor in town, I rarely had the excuse to go back. Life moved on. Three and a half decades passed. I went to one reunion long ago. I don’t even remember which one it was. 5-year? 10-year?

When I left:

  • Southwest Texas State was a small party college in town.
  • Aquarena Springs was a vibrant vacation spot.
  • The San Marcos River drew tubers from all around Texas.
  • Neighborhoods looked much the same as decades before.
  • First Baptist was a church near downtown.
  • Estrella, the horse, lived next to the Sac ‘n Pac. (I named her for the star in her forehead. I don’t know her real name.)

When I returned:

  • Southwest Texas State is Texas State University.
  • Aquarena Springs belongs to the University and looks like an abandoned property.
  • The San Marcos River is the home of endangered River Rice and looks like a swamp.
  • Texas State ate up neighborhoods, reminiscent of the old Pacman game.
  • First Baptist Church, the building, is now Sanctuary Lofts apartments.
  • Estella’s place is now Palmer’s restaurant.
  • Sac ‘n Pac is still there. Whew! Now that’s a relief. ;)

It’s not like it all happened overnight. Decades passed. I’m sure the changes happened slowly…except in my mind. How odd to be the one coming back telling the stories about what once was. And it was a long time ago, after all. More than a lifetime to many who will read this. Maybe I’m like Rose, the elder version, in the movie, Titanic, when she tells the story of the fateful voyage to the crew who discovered the shipwreck.

Don’t worry. I have no plans of jumping in the San Marcos River at the end of this blog — especially the river rice overgrown part.

Let me jump to work issues for a moment:

How do you think it will feel when humans leave this planet for long durations, then return? Our astronauts live onboard Space Station for six months at a time.

What happens when we venture further out, where the journey takes years and the mission lasts a decade?

What will it be like returning home to Earth? Think about it. I’ll bet they experience the time warp sensation I did upon returning to San Marcos after all these years. People and places will have changed. They themselves will be different. Their journey will change them — just as my life’s journey changed me since I left San Marcos.

Fun to ponder, right?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of some iPhone pics of my high school romps: San Marcos, Wimberley, Austin.

I’ve gotta’ say, though. I really miss Texas. No way to catch up on 35 years of living in one single weekend. That’s where Facebook comes in. I’m thinking we need a San Marcos High School Class of ’74 fan page, where we can all post our stories. (I know, I know…it’s on my to-do list.)

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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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Zambia: Land of Livingstone

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Do you even know where this quote came from? I knew the quote, but not the context. Traveling to Zambia at the end of July brought the quote to life as we learned more about the country’s history.

David Livingstone statue @ Victoria Falls

Livingstone @ Victoria Falls

Before traveling to Zambia, I’d read about Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Perspectives, a 16-week course about God’s global purpose through a biblical, historical, and cultural perspective. When I learned (though Facebook) that my aunt and uncle live and serve as missionaries in Livingtone, I was amazed. They live in a city named after the missionary I’d studied. I really like David Livingstone’s life story.

Not only was he appalled by the inhumanity of the slave trade, he believed Christianity + self-sufficient commerce could help eradicate the nasty practice at its roots.

Mosi-oa-Tunya

Mosi-oa-Tunya

He explored for viable trade routes to open commerce for the people he came to serve. In his travels, Livingstone “discovered” the massive falls (110m/330 ft down) on the Zambezi River in 1855, named by the locals Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke that Thunders.” He renamed it Victoria Falls to honor Queen Victoria. During a later expedition to search for the source of the Nile River, Livingstone was tracked down by a New York Herald reporter, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. Stanley is said to have stated, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Dr. Livingstone headed several expeditions and published his findings. He blazed a path for other missionaries and explorers to follow. I assumed the present day town, Livingstone, is named after the missionary-explorer. My aunt tells me some of the locals disagree. They believe the town name comes from tribal heritage. Who’s to say?

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Livingstone — the destination — is a paradise for extreme-sports fanatics.

Tourists flock here for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, microlight flying, and more. Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of high places I can fall from. I call it fall-o-phobia.

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights as much as that long journey down, should I happen to slip over the edge. The fact that human beings WILLINGLY choose to tie-their-legs-together-on-an-elastic-band-and-leap-from-a-towering-bridge-of-their-own-free-will utterly escapes me. My buddy Mike Boon (see previous blog posts) told me he jumped with his son off the Victoria Falls Bridge into Batoka Gorge a few years back. I shudder as I type. I think I’ll stick to the terror of moving a government project forward withOUT the required 95,000 signatures on the concurrence page. ;-)

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Tourists can stay at the Zambezi Sun Hotel which is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage site. The current Lion King (more about him below) sold off sections of his people’s land, such as the site of the Sun hotel, which sits on a prime location along the Zambezi River next to the Falls. You can see the spray from the falls from the water-side of the hotel. Giraffe, zebra, impala, and monkeys roam freely among the guests.

Romping Zebras

Romping Zebras

We stopped for a pot of tea at the hotel (July/August are winter months in Africa). As we sat by the pool drinking tea, the zebras joined us. They romped and played for hours. What a surprise and delight! The hotel employs a “zebra-handler” to keep the guests safe. I found myself precariously wedged between the hind-quarters of several zebras. (I was innocently trying to take pictures.) The handler rescued me, leading me to safety. Evidently, zebras like to kick unsuspecting humans…like me.

If I could take home a pet zebra, I would.

Can I take him home?

Can I take him home?

Being close enough to touch wild animals and live to tell about it is the most amazing experience!

Melody welcomes the children

Melody welcomes the children

I’m so thankful my aunt Melody invited us to visit. Two days before we arrived, my uncle Phil flew to the States for a medical procedure. Sorry Phil, but we had such a great time while you were gone.  I wasn’t sure what we’d find in Zambia. Melody and Phil have served in Livingstone for three years now. Phil goes out to the bush to reach out to the villagers — many of whom have never seen a “white man” before.

Melody graciously allowed us to walk her walk during our time in Zambia. She introduced us to the people, places, culture, and customs. She teaches the children on Sundays at the “Cowboy Church” which was started by a fellow missionary and his wife. We went with her to help with the kids.

Clean water!

Clean water!

As we drove up, we noticed women washing their clothes in front of the church.

The neighborhood has no running water or plumbing facilities.

Cowboy Church Outhouse

Cowboy Church Outhouse

We learned that the villagers are welcome to use the water at the church to meet their needs. I must admit that I was unprepared to use the church outhouse, though it offers privacy and a nicely painted exterior.

The people live a simple life — which in no way translates into the easy life.

Running water for villagers.

Running water for villagers.

Women can spend up to 60% of their day fetching water from remote sources. Water is carried in buckets. The same water is used for eating, drinking, cleaning. If you’re well-off, your home includes a water tower.

If water were a commodity, it would be blue diamonds!

Water. Plumbing. Electricity. All luxuries we take for granted. Those who have electricity share frustration with reliability from the electrical utility provider. For my aunt and uncle, Thursday is their day to do without…in addition to the other unscheduled outages.

Flatbed trucks

Flatbed trucks

We witnessed a number of funeral processions. Funerals are an accepted part of every day life. The cause? AIDs. Malaria. You name it. Friends and family cram onto flatbed trucks for the ride to the cemetery. Cemeteries are filled with recent grave markers.

My aunt explained that widows, who’ve  lost their livelihood, are expected to feed and care for all the guests at the funeral. In the US, we take food with us to the grieving widow. What is so foreign to me, is a cultural given to the people who live here.

Uncertainty is part of life in the land of have-nots.

On the days we went out to the villages, I refused to drink anything. I feared needing “facilities” that might not be to my liking. How lame is that? I held out until I could get back to my Western amenities. I’m a wimp. I admit it.

I had trouble adjusting my Western habits to the 3rd-World reality we experienced in Zambia.

But, hey, I DID hard things — like drive in an unknown country, in unknown vehicles, on teeth-rattling surfaces, stick-shift on the left-hand side of the road…and IN THE BUSH! White-knuckle driving, I called it. SOMEone had to. Note: My aunt doesn’t drive stick…yet! It’s only a matter of time, now that’s Melody’s seen me take on the streets of Livingstone and beyond. (Right Melody?)

Deep in the Bush...

Deep in the Bush...

Singing and Dancing!

Singing and Dancing!

We drove out to the bush to help out with the Kooma Community School. Pastor Kebby, who leads the Cowboy Church congregation on the outskirts of Livingstone, shared about God with the students of the school. The government requires “religious” education units as part of the curriculum. How different from the US.

I watched with awe as Pastor Kebby talked to the kids with enthusiasm and humor. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but the kids laughed and responded eagerly. I loved getting a glimpse of his unquenchable spirit. Though he was ill while we were there, he refused to slow down. By the end of our day-long journey into the bush and back, he could barely walk. His passion for his people was humbling indeed.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

We tourists only peek through the window to their world. They live it. We go home to our comfortable routine.

We visited 700-yr-old Mukuni Village, home of Chief Mukuni, the real Lion King. One of the locals walked us through the village and told us about the royal family and their system of justice and administration. They have very little crime among the 8000 villagers. We saw the tiny jail. I wouldn’t want to spend time there either. Ok, I wouldn’t want to spend time in ANY jail!

Livingstone Tree

Livingstone Tree

The Mukuni village is organized around a giant tree where Dr. David Livingstone waited for an audience from the Chief. It’s their “meeting place” to this day…in the land of Livingstone.

Lion King's Throne

Lion King's Throne

Knowing that my aunt is a missionary, our guide described their tribal religious beliefs. She explained that they pray to the God of the Bible, and make certain they bless their food properly in order to keep their ancestors from getting angry. Otherwise, she confided, they could get upset stomachs…or worse. In Perspectives class, I first ran across the concept of syncretism — where several belief systems merge together. Can this be what she described? It’s a subtle distinction.

I merely pose the question, not suppose the answer.

Flower lady

Flower lady

Mukuni village has electrical wires running through it. We walked past huts with radios blaring, wires strung loosely from the master wire overhead. The villagers showed signs of prosperity from the tourism trade (as well as the sale of tribal land for development, such as the Zambezi Sun). Flower gardens. Thatched fences. New huts in various stages of completion. Dirt floors, but bright smiles.

Village Vendors

Village Vendors

We realized, after the fact, that while we walked through the village, the vendors all gathered at the village market — in anticipation of our visit there. Talk about sales pressure. I found it totally overwhelming. Once we walked out of the market, the villagers all filed out and went home. Seriously. Every one of them.

On our way back from Mukuni Village, Melody took us to see the lions and other wild cats at the Mukuni Park Reserve. She told me it was down one of the MANY unmarked paths on the main road. (Road, BTW, is a term I use quite generously. Perhaps I should say crater-impaired clearing between heavy brush.)

Good to know...

Good to know...

Fortunately, Melody picked out the correct unmarked turn-off from the road. It was a one-way crevice filled with deep sand. (Did I mention I have an imagination? Others might call it a generously sandy path.) One of the many dramatic moments of our trip: the mini-bus spun out of control in the sand. I’d never used 4-wheel drive as a separate stick shift. Melody instructed me, from her best memory, how she’d seen Phil engage the 4-wheel drive. Somehow we got “unstuck” but it wasn’t a pretty sight. The lion guys must’ve had a good laugh as we jerked our way to their doorstep.

I never quite got it in gear, so to speak.

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

No matter our humiliating arrival, we had an incredible time with the cats. Wow! They’re amazing creatures. The cat handlers will let visitors “walk” with the lions and cheetahs. Fortunately, the cats were all in their cages during our visit. When our guide told us we could play with the cubs, I pictured kittens — the  size that fit in one hand. Uh, no. These were cubs the size of a couch, with paws bigger than my feet.  I would not want to be their dinner. Yikes.

When offered the opportunity to go inside the cage with five of these man-sized cubs, I was less than thrilled. But, go inside I did. Nervously. For one picture. Or two.

Shaka's NOT happy!

Shaka's NOT happy!

The handler got me out quickly. When we looked at the pics later, we saw the reason for my rush exit — a second cub was coming up from behind me. I’m sure he only wanted to play. Or, eat me for dinner.

Now the cheetahs. Fastest animal, right? Well, faster than me! We took pictures OUTside the cage with the cheetahs. Good thing. Here’s Shaka. He was NOT happy to see us. See the fur standing up on his back? Melody told us she was INside the cage with the cheetahs on her last visit. Really? Can that at ALL be safe?

One of the many things I learned in Africa? I’m really, really, really a city girl.

All in all, I’m really thankful Dr. David Livingstone left the comfort of his home and family to minister to the people of Africa. How incredible to walk where he walked, and to have members of my family following his footsteps as missionaries to the very people he came to serve so many years ago. I have so much more to learn about this place so far away from my life in DC. Soon, very soon, I may have a daughter living in southern Africa.

Here’s a cool sunset from the land of Livingstone. Enjoy. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more African stories with you soon.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

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Filed under Africa, Earth, poverty, water

Culture: Straitjacket or Springboard?

I’m thrilled to be featured as a Gov 2.0 Hero on GovFresh.com. I received Luke Fretwell’s request while I was in the Orlando Airport, returning home from a previous scrubbed STS-127 mission. Made my day. (THANKS Luke!!) How cool that he thought of me — one of the many fish swimming around in the huge, vast ocean we call the federal government. My initial reaction:

Do I get a cape? I mean really. Don’t all hero’s wear capes?

Luke sent me a list of questions for the profile:

  1. What was your path to Gov 2.0?
  2. What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
  3. What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception.
  4. What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

What is Gov 2.0? Easiest explanation: mash-up of Web 2.0/social media tools in government processes. For starters, agencies finding creative ways to “do business” through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.

As I answered the questions, I kept coming back to the same sticking point — culture. An organization’s culture dictates its aptitude for “picking up” new technology to meet daily challenges. Hmm, cultural aptitude tests. Might be incredibly telling.

My buddy, Mike Boon, describes culture in his book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership,

“Culture is not an independent thing. It is what we are as people. Our culture guides us in how to behave, and it is the expression of our values and beliefs.”

Luke’s Gov 2.o Hero profile questions focus on what technologies exist to transform government. Transparency is the current buzzword with our new President. Transparency is the underpinning of the Gov 2.0 movement — to make what we do inside the government freely and easily available to all those outside the government.

Personally, I love it. But not everyone does.

Transparency can be quite threatening, especially if one’s power base is built on insider knowledge that is closely held and doled out like currency to buy more power.

Will even the most “killer app” technology transform our federal government overnight. Probably not. We are Uncle Sam, after all. Uncle Sam isn’t known for being quick on his feet, now is he? But, what about Aunt Samantha? She just might be a fast-talkin’ two-steppin’ little whipper-snapper who runs circles around ole’ Sam. (Yes, I’m from Texas. Can you tell?)

Do I think new technology will change how we do business in the federal government? Do I think Web 2.0 will transform our decision-making processes from muddy to clear? Actually, I do. But it totally depends on the leadership and culture of the organization.

A risk-averse culture views change with suspicion and animosity.

A risk-averse organization is unlikely to leap into the arms of new technology. More likely, I picture the “concrete boots” reaction. Perhaps we need a VUKA! intervention to shake up our more entrenched organizations. Vuka is a Nguni word that means: ‘to come alive’, ‘resurrect’, ‘bring to life’, ‘wake up’.

Quick note: I’m traveling with family to South Africa and Zambia. In South Africa, we’ll spend some time with Mike Boon and his family. I know Mike from high school. He was a Rotary Exchange student. Amazingly, we’ve kept in touch ALL these years. Mike’s company, Vulindlela, specializes in organizational interventions. We will accompany him to an event in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, to see how this works. Here’s a quote from his website:

VUKA! is dependent on an organisation’s willingness to build in processes that ensure the sustainability of the change that will definitely have occurred in each individual!

Maybe I’ll learn something about VUKA! to bring back to the job to help jump-start Gov 2.0 within our organizations. But even without intervention, we have pockets of open culture within our government already. I work with some amazingly creative, intelligent, secure, energetic, enthusiastic folks at NASA who are chomping at the bit to gallop into the future.

What can I do?  Open doors, supply tools for the journey, and get out of the way as the stampede rushes past!

Does this make me a Gov 2.0 hero? Unlikely. But, hey. I’ll take the title! I wonder what I’ll look like in a cape? ;)

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Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, leadership, NASA