Tag Archives: President

Rethink: Rings Around Saturn

Have I ever told you why I drive a Saturn? You can blame it on NASA.

In 1990, NASA Headquarters brought me up on assignment from the Johnson Space Center in Houston to work on a new team — the first Office of Exploration. We were formed following the 90-day Moon/Mars Study requested by President H.W. Bush.

My task: design an evolving organizational structure to adapt quickly to change over a 30-year program of unknowns.

In carrying out this assignment, I looked for models of success. I researched bureaucratic organizations that spun off creative teams– to break free from entrenched culture. General Motors’ Saturn company offered wonderful parallels for NASA.

Their motto: Rethink!

The more I learned about the spanking new Saturn company, the more I fell in love with it. I couldn’t wait for my little Chevy Nova to croak, so I could buy my first Saturn. Once I became a proud Saturn owner, I entered the tight family circle — I slipped inside the rings around Saturn. I attended cook-outs at the dealership and new owner workshops to learn how the engine worked. I bought Saturn mugs and stuffed animals. The Saturn guys sent me birthday cards and notified me of company news. They even hosted a yearly get-together for all Saturn owners at their home plant in Tennessee.

I adored the Saturn culture — open, friendly, transparent.

Saturn success offered hope of a similar culture change at NASA for spin-off organizations. Sadly, their experiment in open environment failed to reap profit for GM. GM is shutting down the Saturn line.

The rings around Saturn collapsed under the weight of unmet corporate expectations. (Or perhaps from the weight of years of corporate culture crushing down.)

Saturn of Fairfax Dealership

Saturn Of Fairfax

As I sat in the Saturn dealership yesterday with other Saturn owners, we lamented over the death of our dream — a car company that offered affordable style and trustworthy employees. But a funny thing happened, we had a lovely morning talking about space.

We started talking about On-Star, which somehow led to satellites, which led to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, Russian Soyuz and the transportation gap, President Obama and new directions for space, opportunities for commercial space, SpaceShipTwo venture, Chinese and new space-faring nations, radiation effects on humans on Space Station, and much much more.

One of my fellow-Saturn owners went to high school with former Astronaut Pierre Thuot. Thanks to my iPhone, I could look him up and share what missions Pierre flew on.  Another fellow-Saturn owner shared MIT advances and how they might be applied to space travel. When his car was ready, he told me he’d rather stay and chat.

Upon retrospect, I find the cycle fascinating:

  1. NASA introduced me to my love-affair with Saturn; and
  2. I’m reminded of my love for NASA — spending four hours in a dreary Saturn dealership talking about space.

Two orbits collide on a cold Saturday morning. What are the odds? Though I’m sad Saturn will no longer be around, I’m glad their grand experiment taught us lessons on culture.

Saturn company not only built a great car, they built a communityeven though the business case failed to deliver profit.

Let’s hope NASA can learn lessons from Saturn about transparent culture and community-building. It’s not the vehicle itself (pick your spaceship), it’s all about creating a family circle and rethinking status quo.

Rethink Space? Hmmm. I like it!

Oh, and Santa, don’t forget to put the Saturn Sky in my stocking.

Saturn's Sky

Saturn's Sky sportscar


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

How to Win Friends/Make Enemies

My buddy Mike Boon encouraged me to write a “real and significant” book, as opposed to fiction. (BTW, I’m ready to break 25K words — halfway point — in this year’s NaNoWriMo. WooHoo!)

As I explained to him, government ethics rules prohibit civil servants from earning a second income stream from the job we’re paid to do by the tax-payer — which takes these topics off the table: space, communications, or public service.

Then it hit me what I could write about — human nature.

That’s broad enough not to sic NASA’s ethics lawyers on me, don’t you think? After all, I started learning these lessons way back in high school when I locked horns with our band director. (Yes, that’s me with the whistle in my mouth out front. I still have those white boots and purple baton! I may even have the whistle….)

San Marcos High School band 1974

1973 Parade march: San Marcos High School Band

My book concept: short and not so sweet.

Here’s the deal. I’m envisioning a tiny board book, the kind you can buy at the counter in Barnes and Noble. I’m serious. Really. Think the itsy-est bitsy-est book you’ll ever imagine – the CliffsNotes version of my life experiences both inside and outside my career in the federal government (back off lawyers.)

Would you pay for my Top Ten Rules on how to stay in constant trouble?

Name your price. $5.00? $10.00…if I throw in Rule #11? Anyone? Ok. Fine. I’ll share them with you here. No purchase necessary.

Let’s be honest: I doubt you would choose to pay for trouble-in-book-form, no matter how small the book or price at the check-out counter.

Feel free, though, to correct my assumptions. I’m happy to take your money. (‘Kidding, ethics lawyers! KIDDing.)

So, what to do about the title? Since my grandmother always told me I’d be the first female President of the United States, I’m thinking about a book title that goes something like this:

Why I’ll NEVER be Elected President of the United States.

Or, if that doesn’t work for you, how ’bout this:

How to Win a few Friends and Make MANY Enemies.

Now that you’re on pins and needles, here ya’ go. My rules for a life worth living:

  1. Make a decision.
  2. Don’t waver from the decision (from principle, not stubborness).
  3. Take a stand.
  4. Stand tall, head high (eyes open and ever ready to duck flying objects).
  5. Pick a side.
  6. Stay on that side (but, not the slippery, slimy side. Please!)
  7. Speak out against injustice.
  8. Keep voice steady and clear (even in deafening silence).
  9. Stick up for the little guy.
  10. Give him hope for tomorrow. (Please don’t rob him of tomorrow. I didn’t say ‘stick up’ the little guy.)

Yep, that about says it all. Unless I come up with Rule #11. I’ll let you know if I do. (Ok, Mike, are you happy now? There. I’ve written my book. I’ll let you judge whether it’s real or significant enough.) ;)

movie poster for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

And, sorry Grandma. I don’t see national-scale politics in my future. I’ve barely survived office politics through the years.

My hat’s off to you, fictional Mr. Smith. They made a movie about you. I don’t think my little book will garner the same attention — except from the few friends I win and many enemies I rile up.

But just in case someone rushes in with a movie deal, do you think I can request Angelina Jolie to play the part of me? (No resemblance, I assure you. But what the heck? I’m the creator. Don’t I have a say?)

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Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, writers

Honor Past but Celebrate Future, PLEASE!

Apollo 40th Logo

Apollo 40th Logo

These next few days portend a frenzy of Apollo anniversary activities.  Let’s see what we’ve got on the agenda:

Saturday, July 18:

Sunday, July 19:

  • John Glenn Lecture Series at the National Air and Space Museum will feature the Apollo 11 crew and legendary former Johnson Space Center Director Chris Kraft. Charlie and Lori are invited, as well.

Monday, July 20:

  • Various media events for the Apollo astronauts,n and a private lunch.
  • Newseum 40th Anniversary Educational Forum featuring hunky George Clooney’s dad, Nick, as moderator. Panelists include: Apollo astronauts @TheRealBuzz Aldrin, Charles Duke and Alan Bean, along with STS-125 crewmember John Grunsfeld and Goddard’s Dr. Laurie Leshin.
  • Evening Reception at the National Air and Space Museum. Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson will MC the event honoring Apollo astronauts and former Apollo employees — of whom we have a handful still working at NASA Headquarters. Plus, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will accept the Ambassador of Exploration Award on behalf of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Apollo Employees @ HQ

Apollo Employees @ HQ

Tuesday, July 21

  • Capitol Hill Congressional Gold Medal Presentation to Apollo 11 crew.
  • Appreciation Social with NASA Headquarters employees to honor Apollo astronauts.

This list is the tip of the iceberg. I can’t begin to list all the Apollo celebration events hosted at the NASA field centers.

Yes, we have much to celebrate at NASA. We’ve done some amazing things never thought possible four decades ago. We have every right, and responsibility, to reflect and honor the courage, dedication, daring, and engineering genius that lofted humans to the heavens. How boldly incredible is this accomplishment? Really! Bravo to all who played a part in the foundation of our space program.

But, here’s my quandary: We’ve spent a great deal of time planning for this anniversary. Just like we did for NASA’s 50th birthday. Meetings, telecons, vidcons, brain-storm sessions, product prep, website creation, and much, much MORE to pull together a respectable list of things to do.

Some part of me can’t quite reconcile all this activity. Does an agency retrospective propel us where we want to go tomorrow?

I pose this merely as a question, rather than a conclusion. Believe me, I get that we need to honor those who got us here. I understand the need to look back and marvel at our greatness. It’s our culture. If reliving these momentous achievements (which they TOTally were) makes us smarter for the difficult endeavors we face in current and future programs, then YAY!

But, here’s what I’d like to see: NASA expending the same effort showcasing all the amazing things we’re doing now, and will be doing in the future. For instance:

  • Clean Water challenges to replicate waste water recycling like we practice in space. We are pioneers in sustainable living. Our technology enables crewmembers on Space Station conserve and reuse every drop possible.
  • Orbital 365 events around the globe for every additional year we live/work/play on our incredibly complex orbital outpost — International Space Station.
  • Light the Candle community celebrations held EVERY remaining Space Shuttle launch, AND for significant engine test firings for new vehicle development.
  • Light Gardens created from home-made solar collectors to remind us how delicate and fragile the balance is between creation and consumption of energy, as our international crew of six onboard Station can attest every day in orbit 220 miles over our heads.
  • Star-gazing festivals where we turn out the city lights and look to the skies together. Our brightest star might just be Station zipping across the horizon.
  • Ticker Tape Parade

    Ticker Tape Parade

    Ticker tape parades for all Earthlings returning to the home planet. (Wait! Who even knows what “ticker tape” is? At least I can show you what it looks like in this picture.) So, in keeping with the times, how ’bout virtual confetti blasts synchronized through an iPhone app?)

I’m merely suggesting ideas to spark your imagination and get the conversation going. I’m not saying these celebrations would even work. But, then again, you never know ’till you try. Right?

Let’s face it, looking back is SO much easier than looking forward — which involves peering into the unknown. Though…that whole “unknown” thing is something NASA is particularly good at. ;)

So, what’s stopping us? Come on! Let’s “pay it forward.”  Tap into that amazing creative energy we have. Celebrate NASA’s today and tomorrow, while we honor the past.

Happy Apollo 11 anniversary!

First step for man...

First step for man...

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Filed under federal government, leadership, NASA, space