If I’m being realistic, I didn’t think there was a chance. But when the ‘APPROVED‘ e-mail came in from NASA Social, I was ecstatic. Then there was the realization I would need to get work off, money for plane tickets & the other intangible plannings. I didn’t think there was a chance. Then, thanks to the understanding of my supervisor, Mike Merlin- it was happening.
For those who are reading this who don’t know, there is a NASA program called NASA Social. HERE is the overview I wrote while I was waiting to depart. It delves into what exactly they do (and also, my feelings before this journey).
The experience we had cannot really be summarized in words. That may sound ridiculous because we were only there for a few days, but I think my NASA Social family would agree. Coming into this with different expectations, backgrounds, goals & emotions mattered none. I didn’t think there was a chance this would change my life, but it did. Below is my attempt at encapsulating (pun intended) the most important things I learned the days of April 12-14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The incredible thing about passion is, while it isn’t tangible, you can still feel it. It is what made our group electric. When we met on our first day, took care of the 50~ introductions of ourselves and got some free ‘things & stuff‘- we made our way to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) with our gracious hosts Jason Townsend, Brittney Mostert & Greg. The bus turned into a 5th grade field trip as we approached the largest single story building in the world (160.3m). There were ‘oohs & ahhs’, cameras clicking & palpable anticipation to be let off the bus and into this building. Passion was visible.
Once inside, more cameras, more ‘whoas‘. We were standing where history was built- literally. If you look towards the north wall on the 16th floor, you can clearly see the Saturn V, SLS & Shuttle banners hung at their respective heights. Famous astronauts, as well as some of the brightest minds in the last fifty years had passed through this building (make no mistake, some were one in the same).
History was there, but the future is too- and it caught our passion aflame.
What was neat to think about is how much failure lead up to physical pieces being loaded into the VAB for assembly. Truly any moment of success, in space and in life, is preceded by far more failure. A most notable admission was when Kennedy Space Center Director, Bob Cabana (which should be a name of a line of floral button-up shirts, by the way), was speaking on his advice to students, specifically STEM Ed students. His words regarding failure were particularly inspiring. He spoke of being denied from Air Force Pilot school, Test Pilot school and the Astronaut Corp. Easy for anyone to go through that and at some point say “I didn’t think there was a chance.”
Yet there he was standing before us. A Naval Officer, Aviator, STS-41 Pilot, STS-53 Pilot, STS-65 Commander, STS-88 Commander & now the Director of Kennedy Space Center (and hopefully someday, a Hawaiian shirt mogul).
The interesting thing about failure is it almost always molds the groundwork to success. Bob Cabana and many of his colleagues are a testament to that.
Take a single step past failure and you have met persistence. If there is one common theme across ALL of NASA, it is persistence. One of my fellow NASA Social-ites, Steve, used a hashtag that put it best. NASA’s NOT DEAD.
At it’s purest form, NASA IS persistence. From the early days of rocket science, to modern shuttles carrying people. From trips of “let’s see if we can do this”, to the transport of Dr Lenore Rasmussen’s synthetic muscle studies to the ISS National Lab by way of CASIS. Also with it’s current transition to commercial spaceflight by way of SpaceX and Boeing.
NASA is anything but dead. I’ve seen it first hand. It’s alive in the way Director Cabana talks about Mars, in the way Jon Cowart & Trent Smith talk about our grandchildren vacationing in space and soon- it will be alive not just on Earth.
I didn’t get the opportunity to see SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and carry Dragon to the ISS in person. But that’s okay. I think I’ve made clear how rich my takeaway has been from this experience.
By NASA Social’s standards, “NASA Social CRS6” is over. April 12-14th has passed. But for myself and the 50 people I shared the experience with, we’ve just begun. We have scattered to our respective corners of the country, but the communal feeling is all systems GO. We are synthesizing our takeaways made unique by our backgrounds and skills and acting on them. We have Lift-Off
Can you believe, I didn’t think there was a chance.