When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, the nation was in competition with its Cold War adversary, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to get a man in orbit around the Earth and to land a man on the moon.
The USSR reached orbit first in 1961, but the U.S. reached the moon first, in 1969. Today, NASA has another moon mission, two NASA strategists told the audience at Franklin & Marshall’s March 28 Common Hour, a community discussion conducted each Thursday classes are in session.
“NASA got challenged [by the Trump administration a few days ago] with putting a man on the moon within five years,” said Elizabeth Kolmstetter, director of talent strategy and engagement in the Office of Human Capital Management at NASA’s Washington D.C. office. “That is a very, very bold goal and has created a new sense of urgency.”
She quoted Vice President Mike Pence who said, “NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable, and more agile organization. If NASA is not currently capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission.”
Kolmstetter said NASA, which last year celebrated 60 years of space exploration, is prepared to meet that challenge, and those of the next 60 years. She said the agency is foremost about people pursuing ideas and taking risks because “we constantly embrace this culture of innovation.”
“We’ve been doing some things the same way for 60 years,” Kolmstetter said. “Telling an organization to transform itself to become more agile, more accountable and think differently about how to do things is really a challenge for change, but now we have a hard goal.”
This is a push NASA needs to make to meet the challenges of the 21st century’s world of work, which she said is virtual and physical.
“NASA has been and always will be about the people,” Kolmstetter said. “We truly believe it’s the people who accomplish our mission. Without the people we have in our workforce, we wouldn’t be where we are today or where we are going tomorrow.”
After showing a short video about the agency, “We Are NASA,” Nick Skytland, talent and technology strategist at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, asked the students in the audience, “Who wants to work at NASA?” Several raised their hands.
As Skytkand gave a brief history of NASA – second man in orbit to first man on the moon to low-orbiter skylab to space shuttle and space station – a quote from Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman flashed on the screen behind him: “Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.”
Like NASA and the changes it made to succeed in the past and will need to make in order to reach the moon in five years, Skytland encouraged students to pursue their ideas and ambitions without fear of failure, and to do so by always re-evaluating themselves
“NASA in the past 60 years has had amazing successes,” he said. “[But] in the world we live in today, organizations need to be more agile … [and] we need to restructure ourselves so we can adapt quickly.”