Times Square and Mars


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When I get to give talks about NASA’s Journey to Mars, I walk through most of the voyage with sexy, inspiring artist’s renditions — a shiny Orion beyond the moon on its next launch, a habitat module keeping astronauts alive for long durations in deep space, an astronauts standing on the surface of Phobos with rusty Mars looming in the sky overhead.

But when I get to the end of the journey, I ditch the artist concepts, and instead of showing an astronaut on Mars, I show this photograph instead.

The Curiosity rover landed on Mars four years ago today, and this is what Times Square looked like when it happened.

In the middle of the night, people packed the place to watch a robot land on another planet.

Why? Because this is who we are. Because as a people, we have our differences and our struggles and our frustrations, but as a people, we yearn to be better. We yearn to be more than what we are. We yearn to reach farther.

And when we do, we as a people celebrate that part of ourselves.

Instead of showing a picture of an astronaut on Mars, I show this picture of Times Square. I tell the audience what it is, what it captures.

I challenge them to picture what Times Square will look like the day that, instead of watching a robot, we’re watching a human land on Mars.

I use this picture because, as much as I’m excited about what we’ll find when we get to Mars, I believe that what will happen on Mars that day is less important than what will happen in Times Square that day. What that day will mean for us as a people. What we will celebrate.

My favorite, though, is giving the talk to teenagers today. I talk about everything that has to happen over the next 20 or so years to prepare for that moment. I remind them that when that day comes, they’ll be the same age Neil Armstrong was when he took the first step on the moon. That they today are exactly the right age to be the one to take that first step on Mars.

I show them that picture of Times Square, and challenge them to think about what it will look like when its a human instead of a robot. If that many people came out to see a rover, when it’s a human being taking our first step on another planet, I tell them, everyone will be there.

“Everyone,” I say, “except you.”

“Because where will you be?”

After all, somebody’s got to take that step.

…Speaking of Mars


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Waaaaay back in aught-two, when I was still new to Marshall Space Flight Center, then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe came to the center to talk about the state and future of NASA. I was watching the the talk on center TV, and I turn it on to see O’Keefe on the stage at Marshall’s historic Morris Auditorium, with a banner behind him reading “Mars Space Flight.”
 
And, yeah, space nerd me was excited. This is really happening? The NASA administrator is here to announce something about sending people to Mars? OK, that’s kind of cool.
 
And then the camera zoomed out. And the banner did not read:
 
MARS
Space Flight
 
It read:
 
MARSHALL
Space Flight Center
 
Oh. Well, that’s cool, too, you know. And, to be sure, we were doing exciting things, but for that one moment, I was really hyped that somebody was about to stand on the stage at Morris Auditorium talking about sending people to Mars.
 
Today, I stood on the stage at Morris Auditorium, talking about sending people to Mars.
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I had a really neat opportunity to brief the latest class of Leadership Huntsville about the challenges we face on the Journey to Mars. It was an honor to talk to that group, it was an honor to stand on that historic stage, and it was an honor, due to a scheduling change, to have Marshall Space Flight Center Director Todd May as MY opening act.
 
But it was one of those moments that drove home what an incredibly exciting time this is. This is happening. We’re going to Mars. And we’re actively working on it now.

Meet the New (Deputy) Boss


NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman with Marshall Center Direct Patrick Scheuermann

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman with Marshall Center Direct Patrick Scheuermann.

Marshall Space Flight Center got our first official visit today from NASA’s new Deputy Administrator, Dava Newman, and I have to say it was a very encouraging visit. During her all-hands address to the center team this morning, I got to ask her a question; she had done a good overview of the agency-wide big picture of what her job entails, but I was curious what was the one thing for her personally that if she accomplished at NASA, she would consider her tenure a success.

“My long-term goal is boots on Mars. That’s going to be my focus here.”

Have I mentioned lately what an exciting time this is to be a part of this agency?

In general, she was impressive. Very obviously passionate about the work of NASA, and, when she talked about her personal labor of love, a revolutionary spacesuit design, very obviously extremely technically capable. And, as a former MIT professor, very passionate about education and inspiring the next generation of explorers.

She went on to talk about her excitement for the planned mission to explore Europa, and to say that one of her goals is to help better articulate our plans for the Journey to Mars. Again, also things I approve of.

Plus, the new deputy administrator of NASA also said this: “I love surprises. I didn’t realize how much improv is part of this job.” Which pretty much immediately puts her high on my list of favorite NASA officials ever.

Why I Love My Job


Neil Armstrong

 

Why I love my job…

The guy in that picture? Forty-six years ago today, he was walking on the moon.

Which, really, is kind of amazing.

On his right shoulder, that man, who walked on the moon, is wearing a red-white-and-blue patch. The symbol of the agency that put him there.

Some days, I get to wear that same symbol and go tell people what that agency is doing today.

Which, really, is kind of amazing.

I don’t, in my line of work, get to do things quite as amazing as that man did. But I do get to do some amazing things. And it is humbling and inspiring in the midst of those things to remember that the same agency that saw fit to send Neil Armstrong to the moon has seen fit to let me blog on its behalf or represent it in another country or share with the public the excitement of a rocket launch or an engine test.

But here’s the really amazing part…

It’s tempting and easy to be overshadowed by that history, by that legacy. It’s easy to go to work one day and listing to Gene Kranz talk about the landing of Apollo 11 or the rescue of Apollo 13 and to feel like our job now is simply to be worthy of what we have inherited.

It’s not.

Our job is to do better.

The NASA I am incredibly incredibly lucky to be a part of is one that is in the midst of undertaking endeavors more ambitious than any it has undertaken before. It is in the midst of beginning a journey monumentally more challenging than the one marking an anniversary this week.

Just as Neil Armstrong will hold a larger place in the history book than Alan Shepard, our job today is to write history that will hold a larger place than his.

That? That’s amazing.