Tag Archives: Twitterverse

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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Don’t be Pug, the Biker Pooch

I met Pug, the Biker Pooch, yesterday morning at the motorcycle repair shop where my daughter’s death trap – I mean Bike – was getting worked on. Adorable little Pug. All decked out in his doggie goggles and head gear. He looked like a tiny Amelia Earhart. I fussed over him a bit, took his picture with my iPhone, then tweeted his likeness out to the Twitterverse.

But all the while, I kept thinking, “Am I witnessing Poochie abuse?”

I mean, really. Does little Pug have a choice? His owner, Nice Biker Guy, dresses him up, straps him on the back of his motorcycle and off they go. Does Pug, the Biker Pooch, get a choice? Does he like being strapped on the back of a motorcycle? Does he enjoy the outfit he’s wearing? Is he even safe?

At first I was thinking how sad for the little pup to submit to the indignity of doll clothes. Then I realized maybe the goggles really kept him safe. But hold on. His owner, Biker Guy, gets a real helmet, reinforced jacket, and heavy boots to protect him from flying rocks or, heaven forbid, a nasty spill. Will a little bit of head-mounted leather keep Little Biker Pooch from harm?

Nice Biker Guy told me Pug’s story and how he rescued the little pooch 12 years ago in the DMZ when Biker Guy served in the Army. Pug was a stray. He was scheduled to be “put down,” but Biker Guy asked for a chance with him. From that day on, their partnership flourished. Fast forward to today. Pug’s a pretty low-key kinda’ pup. But I have to wonder, is he just old? The little guy barely even moves. (Yes, he’s alive. He blinked at me a few times.)

So, here’s my question: Does Pug like the direction his life has taken, or has he given up the fight and accepted his fate as a teeny circus show animal? 

We’ll never know, now will we? But I started thinking about work. So many parallels.

Sadly, I’ve seen many a Biker Pooch at the office. You know what I’m talking about: employees who appear submissive and lifeless. Each day revolves around doing what they’re told – even if it means dressing up in leather and goggles and hopping on the back of the bike.  Ok, I’m being facetious…but sometimes it looks like that to me

Think about it. Some of your coworkers may seem to check reason at the door when they clock in. They may assume mandates given by a “superior” must be valid, whether or not they make sense. Time and again, I’ve had colleagues tell me our management must know what they’re doing – as if management has some magic formula to make wrong things right.

Now let’s look at that. Just because someone holds a position of authority, it doesn’t make him or her superior – in knowledge, experience, or even skill. A title on a business card can mean nothing more than words printed on paper. Why, oh why, do we condition our children to think that anyone with a title must be respected  – despite actions that prove otherwise? They grow up worshipping authority. Wanting it. Resenting when they don’t have it. Sorry, here I go on another tangent.

Quick story: I worked for a manager who blustered and brow-beat and strong-armed his way through any discussion. He would stake a claim (decision) and stick with it stubbornly, no matter the documented evidence that his claim might be an unwise course of action. At some point in the debate, he would switch his decision and announce that we misunderstood him because this NEW position had been his ONLY position all along. He blew smoke around the room to make others think they’d lost their minds — never admitting he’d changed his mind. I was amazed how easily my colleagues accepted blame, and bought the premise that they simply misinterpreted the manager’s position. One colleague gushed about how brilliant this manager was. His reason: everyone in the room appeared confused and clueless. I suggested perhaps the “brilliant manager” was spreading confusion to mask his own cluelessness. Ah, the heresy. 

My point: Just because management makes a decision, doesn’t mean the decision is right.

So what do you do when the decision doesn’t feel right? Ask questions. Nicely. Discretely. Respectfully. But, don’t just “follow” a decision because someone above you makes it. We all make mistakes – from the lowest to the highest levels. Checks and balances, the foundation of our entire federal system, play an important role in any organization…or family, for that matter. Listen to your gut!

If a decision doesn’t make sense to you, it’s probably because the decision doesn’t make sense. 

So let’s get back to Pug, Little Biker Pooch. He really doesn’t have a choice, now does he? He could bark and fuss and make a stink. But how do we know he didn’t do that in the beginning? How do we know Nice Biker Guy didn’t break down his resistance and force him into submission through the 12 years they’ve been together. How do we know Little Pug didn’t merely gave up trying? 

Moral to the story: Don’t submit to questionable decisions at work (or with family and friends) against your better judgment. Don’t assume others know more than you and, therefore, their decisions must be right.

Think! Question! Probe! Decide for yourself!

If, however, you like the goggles and leather head gear, by all means strap yourself on the back of the bike and enjoy the ride. If you don’t, take steps to STOP the MADness.

Remember: You have a choice, unlike little Pug.

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Filed under federal government, leadership, NASA