Tag Archives: Newseum

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

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