Monthly Archives: May 2009

From Serendipity to Space Harmony

Social media is unfolding a world of unknowns for us at NASA. Take for instance NASA’s serendipitous new relationship with the band, McFly.

I admit, I’d never heard of McFly before two weeks ago. Where have I been? How did I miss this phenom band? I just learned today that McFly snatched the Beatles’ long-held title in the Guinness Book of World Records as youngest band to hit #1 with a début album. (Not MY Beatles! Heaven forbid.)

So what’s the connection between NASA and McFly?

Social Media: Twitter, to be exact!

During the STS-125 Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope, McFly’s founder Tom Fletcher @TomMcFly encouraged his 40,000+ (now over 50,000) fans to tweet @NASA to play one of the band’s songs, “Star Girl,” as a Wake-Up call for the astronauts. “Ok followers, let’s tweet @NASA for “star girl” to be played in space!!!”

And tweet they did!

#StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace! #StarGirlInSpace!

Through serendipity, a NASA colleague of mine happened to see all the #StarGirlinSpace tweets pouring over Tweetgrid. She contacted me to see if I noticed saw all the traffic. We googled “McFly: Star Girl” and discovered their YouTube music video, featuring the band members attempting their own back-yard-astonaut-training. We laughed so hard we drew a crowd in the office. We immediately contacted our buddies in Public Affairs to request formal contact with the band.

You might wonder why?

Why would NASA cave under pressure to a pesky bunch of over-zealous teens that clog up our @NASA twitter account? (Admit it: that thought crossed your mind!)

I’ll tell you why.

We’ve lost touch with the youth of our nation and the world. Sure, NASA boasts a solid following among men, educated folks, and the AARP generation. Yes, we get high public opinion scores for doing a good job. But, dig below the surface and you’ll find the Gen X/Y-ers simply don’t see NASA as relevant to their lives. McFly’s fanbase fits eXACTly within the age demographic we have trouble penetrating.

I watched the sample DVD they sent us: Radio: Active Live. These guys are GOOD! With their catchy tunes, fantastic harmonies, and amazing energy – not to mention good looks – no wonder they have tens of thousands of adoring fans. They look and sound like a modern-day version of the Beatles. And, they named themselves after Marty McFly from “Back To The Future.” What’s NOT to like? 

Band Members:

Tom Fletcher

Danny Jones

Dougie Poynter

Harry Judd

Hey McFly boys, can YOU ignite passion for space among your adoring fans? Can you give voice to the drama and magic of the unknown in a way we can’t?

Will “Star Girl” get airtime as a Wake-Up call? Unknown. (Actually, the song selection process is another blog post entirely.) No matter! We’ll figure something out. And, we have a number of potential ideas on how to collaborate outside the Star Girl option.

Thanks Social Media and Serendipity for bringing us together with such talented musicians who happen to like space! McFly boys, how cool if your fans screamed over NASA space missions! Someday….

If music is the key to engage the next generation in space, then play that chord boys! Play it LOUD!

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Space: Humanity’s Playground

Today something amazing happened. Did you notice? A Canadian, Russian, and European launched on a Russian rocket from the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia headed 220 miles in the air to dock with an orbiting outpost built by five partner nations representing 15 member countries. Waiting to greet them? An American, Japanese, Russian crew. We listened to Mission Control chatter in Russian with English translation.

Hey! What is exactly going on here?

In the ghost of NASA past, we successfully reached the Moon to compete with the evil Soviet Union. We just unearthed a mountain of documents from the Father of our space program, Wernher Von Braun. Included among his 10-15,000 papers, a letter to President Kennedy outlining the reasons we should go to the Moon. All about those dastardly HammerAndCycle-ites, the Communists!

Fast forward to today, we’re good buddies with the Russians. We overcame our differences to shape something important for humanity—an off-planet habititat where we can learn how to live in a hostile environment with minimum comforts of home. Heck, we even take turns with the Russians to “Command” the International Space Station. Yes, you read this right. Expedition Mission Commanders rotate between an American Astronaut and Russian Cosmonaut each Expedition mission.

What a milestone for us today! With this launch to Station, we increase the population from three to six who live/work/play on orbit traveling at a speed of 17,500 mph around the planet 24/7 in 90-minute orbits. For the first time, all our partner space agencies will be represented on Station: NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

My take-away from this amazing moment: We find ways to get along when we want badly enough to get going! No cultural or ideological barrier can stop us if the need is great enough. 

Any partnership is only an invitation away. Lead the pack. Make the first move.

And let’s face it, we can’t explore the cosmos on the back of the tax-payers from any one nation. Space is humanity’s playground. My prediction: in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be partnering with China, Korea, and Iran. (After all, they like to launch things too.)

Wouldn’t it be SO cool to create the Human Space Agency and wear an Earth Badge? Maybe in a few tomorrows from today we’ll see it come to pass. Today proves we’re on the right path with our Station partners. We’re proving we can work together to do this thing called space. 

Humanity’s destiny is to expand our knowledge of the unknown. Earthlings, UNITE!

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Sing to Me, Space!

Do you think space is a silent void where no one can hear you scream? Think again.

Scientists at the University of Iowa, working with NASA, captured the music of space – an orchestra of sounds collected deep in outer space where no human has ever gone before. Not even Captain Kirk!

At NASA, we not only enable you to peer out into the far reaches of the universe through Hubble’s robotic eyes, but also bring you heavenly sounds from space. And, let’s face it. How COOL is that?

Ok, true confession.

Most of these recordings don’t really sound like music at all. The words I crafted sound nicer than what you’ll hear below. I’ve gathered together some oddly unsettling and even spooky recordings to share with you. In fact, you may recognize sounds that remind you of old sci fi movies.

Yet, they’re not science fiction. They’re science fact.

Here’s what my imagination tells me is going on out there:

  1. Crickett invasion of Jupiter
  2. Earth homing beacon for visiting UFOs
  3. Tarzan of Jupiter’s Jungle Moon (1st 20 seconds silent.)
  4. Popcorn popping OR blazing fingers on a keyboard (Lightning on Saturn. Really!)
  5. Milky Way Expresso Machine 
  6. Man on the Moon Burping (I hope his wife has better manners.)
  7. Twilight Zone (Nice summer night until you realize you’re ON another PLANet!)

I wonder what the Universe is trying to tell us, if we could only understand? How many times have we stopped long enough to listen?

So what do you think? Will our space sounds sing you to sleep or give you a nightmare? I wonder…

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Leadership is like a Waterfall

Watching the STS-125 crew during their (what stretched into) 14-day mission to repair Hubble, I’m struck by their camaraderie. They work hard and play hard, appearing to genuinely enjoy each other’s company — dream team!

Not all Shuttle crews mesh so well. My long-time NASA colleague, who has worked with the Astronaut Office closely through the years, told me the Commander sets the tone for the crew. She’s so right.

I’m reminded of another recent mission: STS-120 led by Commander Pam Melroy.  When the crew visited Headquarters on their post-mission tour to meet with the Washington DC establishment, we aDORed them. They were easy-going, friendly and, best of all, humble. 

For the STS-125 mission, Commander Scott (Scooter) Altman offers a case study in leadership. He gives motivational pep talks to his crew, quoting King Leonidas of Sparta in 480 BC. Spacewalker Mike Massimino predicts that Scott’s words on this mission will live on as well, “A king or commander of a spaceship 2500 years from now will quote the words Scooter told his crew.”

Scott displays calm confidence as Commander of this historic mission, the last and final human mission to the Hubble telescope. He lets his crewmates shine, allowing them to “upstage” him, as we see with Twitternaut @Astro_Mike Massimino and his wildly popular tweets from space. Scott’s leadership style allows his crewmates to bring their own unique personalities to the table – without forcing them to conform.

Did you know Scott is the pilot flying upside down in the movie “Top Gun?” He was a young hot shot Navy F-14 fighter pilot when he flew those scenes. He knows about top-down leadership – literally.

So here’s my takeaway: Leadership is like a waterfall. Debris cascades down just as easily as water, causing great damage on its way down. Take care what’s on top!

Here’s hoping we all learn a little top-down leadership from STS-125 Commander Scooter Altman. Let good things flow!

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Go-No Go and the Black Hole between

As we face the pending landing of our successful STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis Hubble repair mission, I’m struck by the “Go-No Go” mentality of NASA’s can-do Mission Control teams at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Think about it. “Go-No Go” translates into, “We’re going forward until we tell you to stop.” Success-oriented thinking. A “Go-No Go-er” manages risk by assessing potential outcomes and making reasoned decisions based on the probability for success. If new information comes, reassess and alter direction.

Now, let’s consider the reverse: “No Go-Go,” which means “Do nothing until you’re told to do something.” A “No Go-Go-er” is risk-averse, because risk may lead to that dreaded thing: failure.

Let’s face it: You can NEVER be wrong if you NEVER make a decision.

Think about the people around you: workmates, family, friends. How many do you know who operate in a holding pattern until they get a green light? Far too many, I expect. I call it the “Black Hole of In-Between” – the never-never-land spent waiting for something to happen or someone to give direction.

Often, I’ve observed, that we may be waiting for someone to make a decision and, all the while, he/she may be caught in the Black Hole of not knowing what decision to make. My suggestion: throw them a rope! Get busy and develop solutions to present to your leadership. Be the “Go-No Go-er” who gets things moving. Make a decision. It’s worth the risk. Really!

But then again, you take a risk following my advice. I’m the “protruding stake.” (Refer to About Beth page for Chinese proverb.) ;-D

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NASA Leadership

Get-OUT-of-this-World Leader

All the NASA-verse is a-Twitter with speculation about a new NASA Administrator. Social media allows us to spread rumors beyond the traditional NASA hall-talk and space media club to every-day-man, who picks up the buzz on blogs and Twitter. With Twitterfall, Tweetgrid,Tweetmeme and others trending agents, we can easily track the chatter.

A recent tweet that caught my attention. The writer wondered why the space community seemed so pleased with the rumored selection of former astronaut Charlie Bolden. Here’s my answer: Charlie Bolden is a known quantity.

NASA engineers and scientists, though forever searching for the answers to the unknown, like to deal in ‘knowns’ whenever possible. What, you say? It’s logical, really. We seek what we don’t know by leveraging what we know.

We pride ourselves at NASA in thoroughly mapping strategy to address every contingency that could EVER conceivably happen, then rethink it over and again. We have contingency procedures for every step along the way. We want to manage the risk and operate in a world of known quantities. If we don’t know, we test and test and test again until we build up a database of knowns.

Same with leadership. We find comfort in the known – even if we don’t like what is presented to us. At least we know what to expect and can adjust accordingly. Known=good, unknown=bad. That simple.

Charlie Bolden comes from the human spaceflight world. Heck, he flew in space. He’s one of us. Known=good. 

The President will make a choice for the next Administrator of NASA.  Whoever that man or woman may be, we desperately need a natural born leader with humility, integrity and good sense. 

Here’s my definition of leadership: 

A leader is NOT the one who steps to the front of the line, but one who INSPIRES a long line of followers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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