The NASA Senior Leadership Team and Fake Problems

written by David Mixson

I‘m exhausted with the phrase NASA Senior Leadership Team. NASA bigwigs use it to describe themselves and other NASA bigwigs.

Just the other day, I heard it used ad nauseam when two senior managers at my center went on stage at an event and asked each other softball questions having nothing to do with space.

“Tell us. How do you motivate your employees to perform? Isn’t this difficult?”

Their dialogue was scripted, and her response was predictable.

“The NASA Senior Leadership Team meets on a regular basis to discuss any challenges that may come up.”

Every answer was followed by another question.

“How do you juggle everything at work?

“How do you make time for your family?

“How do you manage your hectic schedule?”

I wanted to ask the panel onstage this question:

“How would you grade NASA’s performance over the last decade when it comes to inspiring our youth?”

And then, right when I started zoning out, one of the speakers pulled out the NASA smoke and mirrors trick I’ve heard for decades that they think rallies the troops.

Safety is number one in everything we do,” she said. “We need to push back when we see something we question. We need to resist the temptation to do things fast.”

Isn’t that like telling a turtle to slow down?

Then, one of the speakers gave us a line that has to be straight from the NASA Senior Leadership Team Handbook.

“NASA is at risk because so many of our senior engineers and managers are eligible to retire in the next five years. We need to make sure we transfer this knowledge base before they go. We need to focus on succession planning.”

I think the NASA Senior Leadership Team has repeated these fake problems for so long that they actually believe them.

Doesn’t anyone on stage know that the average age of an engineer during Apollo was 27 years old? Of course, they do. Yet, they talk down to us as though we don’t. And what about the average age of SpaceX engineers? I’m guessing about the same age as the Apollo engineers who got us to the moon.

So sad—and embarrassing.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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