Grateful Challenge 2016

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Personal Gratitude

For the fourth consecutive year, Gini Dietrich and Spin Sucks have hosted the Grateful Challenge. While the base model is “try to write down everything you’re grateful for and get to 99 items in ten minutes” (as I did in 2014 and 2015), Gini’s 2016 version deviated a bit from that plan and so will mine (I mean, come ON, has 2016 complied with “predictable” in any way whatsoever?). While it will be utterly impossible for me to top Gini’s #10, gratitude is not a competition and I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on (and share) the places, people, values, and experiences that made the year unique.

Note, the only way this list resembles the “write down as many things as you can in 10 minutes” model in any way is the fact that they are not in any particular order. These are the fifteen items that came to mind, in the order they popped into my head.

My Impromptu Trip to NYC in June

I knew that my friend Mary Jane, with whom I did the 2015 New York City Half Marathon for Team in Training, planned to do the NYC 10K Mini in June 2016, but never planned to join. I had my sights set on doing a Disney race with her in early January 2017.

Less than a week before the 10K Mini, I learned that she would not be doing the Disney race in 2017 because she would be undergoing a stem cell transplant related to her Multiple Myeloma iin Fall 2016. Five days before the 10K race, when we were messaging each other, she said, “come do the 10K. You have a place to stay.” Long story short, I bought a plane ticket, finished up all my work for Weaving Influence, registered for the race,and …….. became an unofficial part of Mary Jane’s team at the New York Mini on June 11.

Any day in NYC is a happy day for me. So grateful that my family made the sacrifice financially for me to fly to NYC on virtually zero notice, that Mary Jane and her family welcomed me with open arms, and that I had an unexpected four days in my happy place. It truly did make me happy. So happy.

Personal Gratitude

Mary Jane, Me, Mary Miner (we all worked together at Fordham University)

Our Michigan Trip in July

My husband, Wayne, had a class reunion in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in July. He and my son drove to Michigan, with stops along the way at places like the Corvette Factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Chicago, and Upstate Michigan. I got my father-in-law settled in respite care at an assisted living facility for eight days and flew up to meet them for part of the trip.

I *love* traveling and enjoyed this opportunity to reconnect with family and friends in Michigan, to be part of the class reunion, to take in a Tigers game, and to visit Greenfield Village in Detroit.

As grateful as I am for the travel, having my father-in-law completely dealt with by someone else for eight days was also BIG. I swear as much as I loved the travel, I loved having 24 hours in the house to myself and being able to get all the carpets cleaned before I picked him up. 

Personal Gratitude

At a Tigers Game on 7/17/16.

Journey to Mars NASA Social

On August 17 and 18, I participated in a NASA Social in New Orleans and Mississippi. The social was all about the Journey to Mars. This was my third NASA Social and my first to take place at a space center besides Kennedy Space Center. I loved learning about a new (to me) space center and who doesn’t love an opportunity to go to New Orleans?

So many things about this trip were highlights. The learning about NASA was excellent (including seeing a test firing of one of the engines that will be part of powering the journey to Mars), the food was fantastic, and the opportunity to reunite with my best friend from childhood was such a treat for my heart!

Personal Gratitude

Soooo grateful to spend time with Paula!

Personal Gratitude

At the Aerojet Rocketdyne Facility with one of the engines to be used to propel the Journey to Mars.

Personal Gratitude

Jonathan had never had beignets before (!) so we had to remedy that.

I’m grateful for New Orleans, a city that has overcome so much, for the friends and food there, and for the fact that NASA and its contractors put really big components together there so I had an opportunity to go!!

Harry Was Wrong

Maybe if I was a guy writing this …. I wouldn’t write this. But I believe Harry was wrong when he told Sally men can’t be friends with women because they only have one thing on their mind. It takes respect and discipline to be friends when life could have taken two people other places, but who better to have as a friend than someone who had chosen to respect your choices and still share generously in the journey of life?

Personal Gratitude

My friend and I shared a day visiting my childhood home and elementary school in January.

I’m grateful for another year of a friendship that proves Harry wrong. 

Family, Together

It seemed like time flew between my niece Jessica’s announcement that she and Eric were engaged and the day we were scurrying around, with two men in the house trying to figure out tuxedo pieces, and Tenley and me doing hair and makeup as we prepared to step into long dresses (while getting my father-in-law into a suit). But November 12, 2016 dawned sunny and perfect, and although I can’t say “perfect” often describes the ins and outs that are part of being a family, for a few moments in that day, we were reminded that more often than not we continue to make an effort to be perfectly united.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for Wayne (husband), Tenley, and Wayne (son) (and Wayne (father-in-law)).

Flexible Work

Because someone has to be home with my father-in-law, I am grateful that I have flexible work which contributes to the family bottom line. It’s not just the fact that it’s flexible work, though, it’s the fact that Weaving Influence has core values (of which flexibility is one) and strives to live those values daily.

Personal Gratitude

With Whitney Heins, Becky Robinson, Jennifer Kahnweiler, Christy Kirk, and Kylah Frazier, Weaving Influence Team Members and Supporter. July 2016

I am grateful to be able to work and provide care for my father-in-law simultaneously.

Girl Scout Cookies, Friendship, and Advocacy (Not in that Order)

I have been involved with Shot at Life since 2013, and in addition to the rewarding work of advocacy on behalf of children around the world who are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, I have made the most wonderful friends.

I also may or may not have been part of a scheme to hide girl scout cookies behind a dumpster at the US Capitol when security would not allow us to bring them in. I won’t say more, but just know there are girl scout cookies being consumed in the picture below and this picture was taken AFTER the Capitol Contraband Cookie Caper.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful to know smart, caring women (and men) who are doing their part to make the world a better place. I am, of course, grateful for Thin Mints but I figure that goes without saying!

Stumbling Blocks on Fitness Road

Wow, was I ever optimistic way back in 2015 when I thought I could keep running, albeit more slowly, as long as I took my beta blockers before I ran. Without looking it up, I can’t tell you what day I stopped running (for now) but having to be taken back to the finish line of a recent 5K by a golf cart instead of my own two feet was a decision point for me.

Personal Gratitude

At the Stop the Violence 5K, BEFORE the race. Turns out Harper (the dog) and I each had our own struggles that day.

Still, I am grateful for the running community, that medical science (hopefully) will continue to find new answers to challenges like mine, and for the young man I run (walk) for, Gareth, who motivates me to keep moving.  

Reading

I love reading and have enjoyed some fantastic books this year. It would take an entire blog post to discuss favorites but I’ll chose two. A book I enjoyed on paper was The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I was motivated to pick it up because I was at the Detroit Airport, needed something to read, and had just seen the Wright Brothers home and shop when I had visited Deerfield Village.

On audio, it’s so difficult to choose. I need to give a shout out to Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Of all the books I have read this year, it’s among the top five at motivating and encouraging me.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for reading, for its power to unlock my imagination and ignite my spirit. 

My Parents

My parents have gotten the short end of the gratitude stick from me many times over the decades, but they have responded with grace and generosity. I am beyond appreciative.

I don’t have a picture of the three of us together from this year to share, but I am grateful.

Blogging

Oh blogging, how has it been seven years already? I pulled up a post from 2009 today and flinched a little bit seeing the long unbroken paragraphs, the image I may have pulled off of Google images (that I replaced!), the lack of a meta description, and other signs that I really didn’t know what I was doing back then (not that I know now!). But blogging has given me such a fertile outlet, has connected me to so many incredible people, and has provided opportunities to earn additional income. Thanks, blogging.

I am grateful for blogging, and especially grateful to everyone who reads my blog, comments on it, and shares.

Toastmasters

It has been a fun year at Toastmasters, and I am happy to have closed it out with an opportunity to compete in the District Evaluation Contest and the District Humorous Speech Contest. Coming in 2nd in the evaluation contest was a welcome surprise. Not placing in the humorous speech contest was a humbling experience that inspired me to keep on trying. Now life needs to hand me something hilarious to discuss! (I should probably be careful what I ask for).

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about speaking, evaluating, and running meetings from Toastmasters.

Eldercare

Eldercare is not easy. I imagine when the perspective is reversed, being the elder isn’t a walk in the park either. I have no rosy “this situation is teaching me lessons I need” kind of takeaway here (although I do believe that is true). But dad is our patriarch on the Kiger side and I am glad to be able to do my part.

I am grateful that despite the many challenges, we have so far figured out a way to care for dad at home and (hopefully) provide him a place where he knows he is cared for.

Interacting With the Most Incredible People

So many people come to mind who are on my “grateful list” for this year. Many of them ended up in my life through blogging, advocacy, or both. I have to conduct phone calls wherever I can since the main tv in our house is usually on VERY LOUD TENNIS, and I will not soon forget sitting on the floor of my bedroom. a couple of sheets of paper in my hand, talking to Mark S. King for our collaboration on a CDC-related blog about encouraging people to get tested for HIV.

It’s too long of a story for this blog, but I believe it is possible that Representative Gwen Graham would go to Costco with me, as we discussed when we met about Shot at Life. I may have been in an office in Washington, D.C., but it felt very much like I was on a front porch in North Florida. She has a gift.

Personal Gratitude

Visiting Rep. Gwen Graham in Washington, DC

Be open to meeting new people and hearing their stories; you will be grateful for what you learn.

Silence

I know ….. silence? I think often of the silent retreat I did in March. It was only six hours but those six hours were probably my longest unplugged period in a while. It was a different experience, one which made me question whether or not I really want to do a multi-day silent retreat somewhere (I do…), but it was a reminder that it’s easy to give in to the world’s distractions and lose touch with the places, people, values, and experiences that really matter.

Personal Gratitude

For the highlights of 2016 I’ve mentioned here, and for the ability to gather more moments in the year to come, I am grateful. 

thoughtful-thursdays4

Finding Mars: A #NASASocial Experience

Finding our way to Mars is going to take an unprecedented amount of resolve. We’ll need the best people, the wisest use of equipment, and the most thought through of plans.

When I participated in the #NASAMarsDay NASA Social August 17 and 18, I got an in-depth look at the people, the equipment, and the plans involved in the journey to Mars. Although I had been a believer already in the idea that we will have humans on Mars in the 2030s, I am a better informed and more inspired believer now.

It’s Technical

Although I have been to two previous NASA Socials (documented here and here), the only attention I had given specific to Mars was taking this picture as an afterthought during one of our tours:

Space Exploration

After a day at Michoud Assembly Facility and Stennis Space Center, I have a much better understanding of the technical feats that have to occur in order for us to make it to Mars.

Getting to Mars happens in stages. Currently, primary transportation capabilities have been established via the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the crew transportation vehicle. Low earth orbit missions involving the International Space Station are conducting tests of deep space hardware and operations.

The phase following low earth orbit missions, slated for the 2020s, will be proving ground missions. These initial missions near the moon will demonstrate important space systems as well as early elements of Mars transportation vehicles. Two components needed for Proving Ground missions, the transit habitat and the deep space tug, are in the early development stage.

In the early 2030s, NASA plans missions to the Mars vicinity using the vehicles and systems validated in cislunar space. These missions will prove capabilities for transit to Mars.

Lastly, in the mid to late 2030s, humans will be capable of landing on and ascending from Mars, and of exploring on that planet. Two building blocks of this phase, the Mars Lander/Heat Shield and the Mars Ascent Vehicle, are still in the conceptual phase.

Note: Some of the above information relied heavily on Boeing’s A Path to Mars. Thanks, Boeing! There is lots of indepth information from NASA here as well.

I now can speak a tiny bit more knowledgeably about friction stir welding, a solid-state joining process that produces faster, higher quality welds than traditional fusion welding by using an accurate, repeatable, and environmentally friendly process. (More info here and here.)

Short layperson’s explanation: because friction stir welding doesn’t melt the metal like traditional welding does, it doesn’t compromise it.

Additive manufacturing is essential. Niki Werkheiser said it best in this podcast: “…additive manufacturing is actually the kind of formal term for 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing is subtractive. You have a material and you take away from it. Additive is any process where you actually build the part that you’re trying to create, layer by layer, so it’s additive instead of subtractive.”

Short layperson’s explanation: there’s no Lowe’s or Home Depot on Mars. When you need a part you don’t have, you can’t go down the street to buy it. You have to know how to make it yourself out of components you already have. 

Cleanliness matters. When we visited the RS-25 assembly area, we were reminded of the importance of keeping things clean, clean, clean. Even the oil from a quick touch of a finger can compromise the manufacturing process. Everywhere you go, “FOD” reminders are posted.

Space Exploration

Note the “FOD Awareness Area” barrier around the service module conical adaptor.

FOD is foreign object debris/foreign object damage and it is apparently the devil’s equivalent in the space construction arena. (And those of you who know me best know that yes, I do have a post floating around in my mind that parallels space FOD with life FOD and how we can let the smallest piece of trash mess up a perfectly good plan … that post will have to wait!) This post is older, but it’s an example of FOD analysis and follow-up planning.

Short layperson’s explanation: when you are in a facility that constructs launch vehicles, engines, crew modules, or any other component of space travel, don’t be careless. Don’t touch anything without permission and for heaven’s sake don’t carelessly drop your gum wrapper or last week’s crumpled up grocery list. Small debris can do huge damage.

It’s Technical, But Without People the Technology Means Nothing

Between the formal presentations and the less formal exhibits, we talked to MANY people. Formal presenters included Todd May, Director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Bill Hill, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, Richard Davis, Assistant Director for Science and Exploration, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters; John Vickers, Principal Technologist for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; John Honeycutt, SLS Program Manager; Bobby Watkins, Director of Michoud Assembly Facility; Lara Kearney, Orion Crew and Service Module Manager; and Katie Boggs, Manager for Systems and Technology Demonstration at NASA Headquarters.

Each speaker named above shared a glimpse into their specialty. For example, Bill Hill explained the difficulty of getting through Mars’s atmosphere. Rick Davis elaborated on the need for a semi-permanent base. Katie Boggs, below, explained why we have to become independent of earth in order to be able to exist on Mars.

Space Exploration

To watch the hour-long Journey to Mars briefing, click here. For an excellent overview of the process of assembling the SLS at Michoud Assembly Facility, click here.

When we visited the exhibit area, I learned about many additional aspects of the Journey to Mars. The Dream Chaser Cargo System is a commercial reusable spacecraft designed to provide transportation services to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations.

Space Exploration

I enjoyed the opportunities to, literally, “ask a real rocket scientist” and “ask a real space architect.” I asked; I learned.

Space Exploration

One exhibit had to do with one of my favorite NASA projects, one I have had the privilege to hear about at each NASA Social, and one even a generic layperson like me can understand: the VEGGIE project, which is figuring out how to grow food in space!

Space Exploration

This is only a FRACTION of the exhibits we saw, the speakers we heard, and the technology to which we had access. As Bill Hill said, “We’re going to need everybody.” What I saw on this day was a great cross-section of “everybody.”

The Technology + The People Made For a Successful RS-25 Engine Test-Fire

The grand finale of our day was a test-fire of the RS-25 engine. After being transported to Stennis Space Center, we were given a tour of the Rocketjet Aerodyne Facility (there are no pictures for security reasons). We learned about how heritage Space Shuttle engines are being upgraded in order to power the SLS on its successively more complex missions related to the Mars journey.

Around 5 pm CST, we were in place at the viewing area, earplugs protecting our ears. As the test commenced, we were about 1500 feet from the plume of the test fire.

Space Exploration

Google Image Screenshot courtesy of JR Hehnly

Here’s my image of the test fire:

Space Exploration

But honestly, some things (such as capturing test fire images) are best left to professionals. Therefore, here is NASA’s recording:

I don’t know if the picture or the video really convey the power and awe, but it was powerful and awesome! At our “goodbye moment” in the parking lot of Michoud Assembly Facility, John Yembrick, NASA Social Media Manager, reminded us “when we go to Mars someday, you will have seen these engines in person. Imagine four of them and two boosters getting us to Mars. You can’t replicate that in pictures or on tv.” (This is a bit of a paraphrase; I don’t remember his exact words but the point was: you’re so lucky to have been here and seen this. I concur!)

History Matters

I have probably driven past the exits to Stennis Space Center 15-20 times in my lifetime as I went to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on various trips. Never did I realize what a behemoth of a complex existed south of me. As our informative guide Virgil explained, Stennis is a “federal city.” The towns and people that once existed there, which were displaced so that Stennis could be built, deserve our respect and gratitude.

Other sacrifices, big and small, are being made now and have been made over the history of the space program. We all know about the lives that have been lost. Smaller incremental sacrifices occur along the way: years of study, patience with failed experiments, the dogged pursuit of Federal funding (and the constant quest to reduce expenses).

In Closing

Before I talk about dollars and cents, as a mom of a daughter it is critical to emphasize that one of my huge motivators for being a social media ambassador for NASA is the fact that I want the young girls in my life (and heck, the “older” girls and women who may be considering career changes) to be comfortable with and excited not just by STEM, but by  STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. The first person I heard talk about STEAM was NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and I have been intrigued ever since.

Count me in as one citizen who feels confident in NASA’s efforts and I fully support its continued Federal funding. Every dollar spent on NASA adds $10 to our US Economy.

Right before we went to observe the RS-25 test fire, we saw a brief presentation by Howard Conyers, principal investigator or the HiDyRS-X project which is refining a high-speed video camera system to provide high dynamic range capabilities with one camera. When Dr. Conyers presented a recording of a test fire from the naked eye and a test fire from the HiDyRS-X camera, it was stunning to discover how much detail is missed by the  naked eye, especially once the images are slowed down in infinitesimally small increments. I recall seeing  how there was shimmy in the nozzle once the advanced technology was used.

The presentation of the HiDyRS-X camera was a perfect example of a principle that will get us to Mars: technology + people + tenacity to solve problems and find answers.

Let’s pull this blog back up in 2040 and see how it all went. You know what? Maybe an astronaut on Mars will send me a screenshot of this very blog on their screen and prove that we did indeed make it. Now that’s the kind of 2040 email I would like to find.

Space Exploration

This post is inspired by the following Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: Write a post where the first and last sentences contain any form of the word “find.”

Please visit my Facebook album from this NASA Social here (expect some New Orleans food and drink pictures too!).

GRATEFUL CHALLENGE 2015

It’s year two of my taking the Grateful Challenge! (For last year’s post, click here.) Inspired by Spin Sucks, the goal is to set a timer for 10 minutes and try to list 99 things you’re grateful for.

GRATEFUL CHALLENGE 2015

This year’s installment:

  1. My parents
  2. A spouse who understands why it is so important to me that my spouse be my friend as well as my lover (Wayne)
  3. My daughter (Tenley)
  4. My son (Wayne Kevin)
  5. Our cat Alice Cooper
  6. Our cat Bella
  7. My father-in-law (also a Wayne!)
  8. The memory of my mother-in-law (Barb)
  9. A roof over my head
  10. A house with a great running route right outside
  11. Running
  12. Running friends
  13. Fitness
  14. My fitness friends
  15. My Fitfluential relationships
  16. Blogging
  17. My #ChevyPlayMiami experience
  18. Having my son with me in Miami Beach while I was doing #ChevyPlayMiami
  19. My NASA Social experience
  20. My Social Good Summit experience
  21. Being a Shot at Life Champion Leader
  22. Toastmasters
  23. That one special friend
  24. Lunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with that one special friend while the crowds streamed in to see Pope Francis in Central Park
  25. My friend Mary Jane
  26. My friend Audrey
  27. My friends’ children
  28. Tenley’s oportunity to do the Disney College Program starting in January 2016
  29. Dairy Queen Blizzards
  30. Reading
  31. Audiobooks
  32. The perpetual influence of The Diary a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  33. Tallahassee
  34. New York City memories
  35. New York City memories to be made
  36. The play Wicked
  37. My son’s new (to him) car
  38. My son teaching me how to drive his new car
  39. A bus option in Florida that gets me from point A to point B affordably, with wi fi
  40. The Spin Sucks community
  41. My work with Weaving Influence
  42. The leaders I work with through the Lead Change Group, a division of Weaving Influence
  43. Chocolate
  44. A nice glass of wine at the end of each day
  45. My Coach, Kristie Cranford
  46. My KR Endurance team
  47. The child I run for via I Run for Michael, Gareth, and his family
  48. Friends who help with my father-in-law
  49. My sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law
  50. My nieces and nephews
  51. My goddaughters
  52. Being free to worship how I want to
  53. The Twitter community (except the jerks!)
  54. People who teach me about WordPress and help me climb other technical learning curves
  55. Patient people
  56. Smiles
  57. The beauty all around us
  58. Sunrises & Sunsets
  59. Learning about weather from people who are more than “forecasters”
  60. A great set of crepuscular rays in the sky
  61. My coworkers at Weaving Influence
  62. Being paid to do social media
  63. Scott Ginsberg (The Nametag Guy) who encouraged me to “make a date with the page”
  64. The potential of the Global Goals
  65. My role as a Florida Prepaid Blogger Believer
  66. Every opportunity I have had to get paid for blogging
  67. Other blogging opportunities which I did not get paid for or paid my own way for which which have paid off in other ways, most notably in the incredible people I’ve met
  68. The two people I have mentored in Toastmasters
  69. Being able to practice my Spanish
  70. The drivers/staff in Miami and Orlando who just start speaking Spanish to me and expect me to follow along
  71. My half brothers
  72. The trails in Tallahassee
  73. My electrophysiologist
  74. Being able to run still (so I guess thanks for beta blockers and that “running through mud feeling”!)
  75. That one friend who said “talks with you are my sanity”
  76. A sense of humor
  77. That my FIL’s cancer appears to have been obliterated
  78. Doing the zoo run in Tampa in August with my friend Diane
  79. Margaritas!
  80. The ability to read
  81. The ability to write
  82. The ability to speak
  83. The HAMP program
  84. Tenley’s employer, Chicken Salad Chick of Valdosta
  85. Everyone in Valdosta who has helped Tenley the last 1.5 years
  86. The teachers who give Wayne Kevin a chance
  87. The teachers who give Wayne Kevin more than worksheets
  88. The freedom of speech fo expres myself during the “Curious Incident” kerfuffle
  89. The ability to see Curious Incident on Broadway the month after the kerfuffle (which reinforced the fact that the kerfuffle was worth making a fuss about)
  90. Journalists here in Tally who have intelligent dialogues with readers
  91. TV journalists here in Tally who support me in giving voice to important issues like World Immunization Week
  92. My involvement with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
  93. My NYC Half Marathon in March 2015
  94. The Light the Night Walk last month
  95. Silvia, the first child we sponsored in Guatemala via Unbound
  96. Estela, the second child we sponsored in Guatemala via Unbound
  97. Stanley, the child we sponsor in  El Salvador via Unbound
  98. Coming home tonight to find the bah humbug spouse had put the lights on the Christmas tree
  99. My Faith

Want to Join?

It’s never too late to spend ten minutes focusing on gratitude! Let me know if you do the challenge!

Photo Credit: Gratisography

Notes from a NASA Social Newbie

Prior to December 2, I had visited the Kennedy Space Center precisely one time, when I took Tenley and Wayne years ago (I think they were around 10 and 7, so that’s almost 10 years ago!). My involvement as a NASA Social participant December 2 and 3 catapulted me into a whole new level of interest, and I am so excited to share the my observations with you!

Although the NASA Social experience for the Orbital ATK OA-4 Mission spanned December 1-3, I joined on December 2. (December 1 was an optional day and after my impromptu trip to Orlando 11/29-11/30, I needed to get caught up on work and pitch in to the caregiving effort for Dad so I deferred, but here’s the view of the Boeing Defense Starliner the group had on 12/1!).

Once I arrived, submitted my two forms of ID (I had been so worried I would forget my passport), and had my belongings as well as our bus pass muster via the bomb sniffing dog, we were on our way to stop number 1, the press center where we did preliminary icebreakers and then participated in a live briefing on NASA TV (view a recording of the briefing here!).

NASA Social

Now for the takeaways, so many takeaways!

Enhancing STEM by Emphasizing STEAM

We didn’t know the awesomeness ahead for us when we were directed into the KSC Training Auditorium on Thursday. Once we sat down, we were told that Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator for NASA, would be speaking with us. I really enjoyed her talk and learned from it. The statement that most stood out to me was her idea that STEM should be broadened to include Art, to become STEAM. That’s the missing link I have been struggling with mentally about STEM: people engaged in science, technology, engineering, and math need the thread of art woven through. Thinking creatively directly impacts thinking analytically, in my opinion, and school systems need to think twice about cutting arts funding in favor of STEM funding. View Dava’s entire talk here (credit to Backyard Astronomy Guy) and follow her on Twitter at @davaexplorer (she’s new to Twitter so if you are on Twitter, please give her a nice welcome!).

NASA Social

Ownership and Engagement

In my capacity as Community Manager for the Lead Change Group and Social Media Specialist for Weaving Influence, I encounter content about employee engagement daily. This is fine with me because it’s a topic I adore. In my last few years at Healthy Kids, I struggled with my own disengagement. Prior to that, as a supervisor, I strove (often unsuccessfully) to foster a sense of engagement. When I had responsibilities as the liaison between Healthy Kids and our Third Party Administrators, I really felt challenged to help weave a thread among people who were not always engaged with their employer and therefore were highly unlikely to go a layer beyond and engage with us as the contractor.

During my time at NASA, I was struck repeatedly as we passed banners which had been signed by team members of various projects. I know signing a banner doesn’t create lasting engagement, but it was a tangible sign of intent, and it resonated with me.

NASA Social

At the Space Station Processing Facility

NASA Social

At the Vehicle Assembly Building; Space Shuttle Teams throughout the history of the program.

Procedures Matter

I suppose it’s obvious to say “NASA is big on procedure.” Spending two days touring various components of NASA, though, gave me deeper insights into why the organization is so procedure-heavy and why it matters. The scale of investment that has been made in the research being done at the International Space Station is expansive (and expensive!). The governments and private entities which have invested in research do so trusting that care will be taken to get their experiments from inception to completion safely, with the relevant data intact.

I learned that anyone in Mission Control for the Atlas Rocket via United Launch Associates can stop a launch in its tracks, but they have to do it a certain way. You don’t want someone stopping such a huge process precipitously by saying to a neighbor “hold on, I need to check a figure.” They specifically have to say “HOLD. HOLD. HOLD,” which everyone understands to be the signal to stop the launch sequence in order to assess what is wrong.

Procedures Matter Part Two

Back when I announced on Facebook that I would be going to the  NASA Social event, someone said, “oh it’s a cargo launch; they don’t scrub those that often.” WELL, I am not sure how often they scrub them but I can attest that if the weather factors which impact launch success are not favorable, and/or if the five launch attempts in a 30 minute window have been spent, the craft will not launch. As we sat in the bus on Thursday night, in the rain, watching attempts 1, 2, 3, 4 and finally 5 come and go, we had a prime example of the fact that no one can control the weather but everyone can control the sentimental goal of getting a rocket up in the air and stop as procedures dictate.

Subsequently, the Friday night launch window closed after each of the 5 attempt options came and went as did the Saturday night launch window. While I was glad I had not rolled the family logistical scheduling dice and decided to hang around for Friday (or Saturday), I was disappointed for all the people I met who are invested in a safe and successful launch. AND I was thrilled to see a successful launch at 4:44 pm today (Sunday, 12/6/15)!

NASA Social

From Astronaut Scott Kelly’s Facebook Page

Privatization

I have developed a personal skepticism about privatization over the years. Although Healthy Kids was technically privatization of the provision of health insurance for children, we were quasi-governmental in many ways. It was when we contracted with Third Party Administrators to do our enrollment, billing, member services, and other duties that I grew disillusioned. Although there were some exceptions, and throughout the years there were always fantastic individual people in the mix, in general it often seemed to come down to a lack of embracing our mission, vision, and values as well as a focus on profit over quality.

This trip to NASA demonstrated ways in which privatization can work, via organizations which are fully aligned with the contracting entity’s goals and personnel who are dedicated to quality. Notably, two of the private organizations involved in this mission were Orbital ATK and the United Launch Alliance. Each of these organizations has a corporate pedigree encompassing big names (Honeywell and Thiokol for Orbital ATK, Lockheed and Boeing for ULA — NOT a comprehensive list). Compared to my personal experiences related to privatization, I saw unity, esprit de corps, and commitment to mission among the people I met at NASA. It was reassuring.

Fresh Fruit

When one of the experts was speaking about the payload being delivered to the International Space Station by the Cygnus, someone asked what the astronauts were most looking forward to. One of the answers? Fresh fruit. Apparently the payload contains fresh fruit. After seeing the launch delayed from Thursday to today Sunday, and the laborious process undertaken to prepare and load something as part of the cargo, I’m hoping it isn’t bananas because this takes a while. I want these men to have their fruit and to enjoy it for heaven’s sake!

Delayed Gratification is a Thing, Especially if There are Veggies (and Zinnias) Involved!

I gathered that one key quality to have as a NASA employee (or employee of an organization like Orbital ATK, ULA, SpaceX, etc.) is patience. We learned about the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) experiment underway. The first crop was red lettuce; they are now growing zinnias.  But when you are on the Space Station and grow your first red lettuce, you don’t just start chowing down. You have to send your crop back to earth so it can be deemed safe. You have to give up a portion of your crop for research. Everything gets measured, studied, and analyzed before (sometimes instead of) being eaten!

NASA Social

Gioia Massa explains the VEGGIE Project!

Reverence Matters

When we visited the Vehicle Assembly Building, there was so much to see it was hard to focus and take in one component at a time. We were told, when we went to the 16th floor to look at the building from a different perspective, to under no circumstances take pictures of the crawler. It had been dismantled in order to be overhauled, exposing sensitive components and clues about processes which were not to be disseminated via social media (there’s an acronym for the regulations governing this (there’s an acronym for everything by the way) but I don’t recall it). Those who disobeyed this rule would be sent back to the bus to wait out the rest of the visit. I had not doubt they were serious!

When we went to the 16th floor, our escort caught me by surprise when he asked, “do you all want to see where the existing pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia are kept?” We were allowed to go, two at a time, as long as we did not cross a specific line. I was told that access to go INTO the room is limited to once a year, for the families only (and a very few other exceptions). I recalled the day this disaster happened, how we had just gotten home from Tenley’s soccer game, how cold it was in Florida, and how surreal it seemed that there had been another Space Shuttle disaster. I was moved by the reverence shown for this piece of NASA’s past, by the memories evoked in this run of the mill civilian all these years later, and by the trust placed in me to pay my respects.

NASA Social

People + Technology + Passion

For us adults, finding wonder in our world can be elusive. It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, in the pessimism of a world more divided than unified, in being resigned to things as they are rather than what they could be.

NASA Social

Thank you, NASA, NASA Social, and everyone in the NASA Orbital ATK OA-4 Social group for giving me a stellar view of the reality of tomorrow!

NASA Social

Photo Credit: NASA GSDO