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The Final Puzzle: Seeing the Deal and Dealing With the Unforeseeable

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”

  • Abraham Lincoln

I started my career in the early 1980’s as a research engineer for NASA – a job that brought me an enormous amount of pleasure and the opportunity to work with, and learn from the “best of the best” in this country’s aerospace industry. However, by the late 1990’s the Agency that I had loved since I was a kid had changed so dramatically for the worse that I decided to leave it for a second career in private industry.

A lot of things contributed to NASA’s decline. But in my mind there was really one very critical element – a nearly complete stripping from the Agency’s management structure of vision and leadership. During NASA’s heyday of the 1960’s it had grown tenfold in size and had accomplished the almost-unthinkable task of evolving the technology of spaceflight from the first 15 minute sub-orbital “hop” of Alan Shepard in 1961 to the spectacular first landing on the moon of Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin in 1969. NASA was able to accomplish this for two reasons: 1) it was driven by a clear vision,46 and 2) its management team consisted of people who refused to be defeated by failures.47

46 On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. [http://history.nasa.gov/moondec.html]

47 Failure is not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond, by Gene Kranz, Berkley Trade (2001)

The Inventor’s Puzzle, Copyright © 2009 by Mark Lake


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