Why we do science and the triumph of NASA’s ‘New Horizons’ team

Last week we celebrated the team play of the US Women’s National Team, this week we honor NASA’s ‘New Horizons’ team for piloting a spacecraft the size of a small piano through space for 3,463 days and three billion miles.

Remember Pluto? You know, the ninth planet in order from the sun. Is there anyone who did not do a science project on the planets? Very few of us can trace our choice of career back to the grade school science fair, but some folks used those dioramas as a foundation to build a career in space exploration.

Think about what you were doing at work nine years ago. Now imagine you were part of a team that started a journey toward that ninth planet in 2006. And then your planet was demoted to dwarf status. Can you imagine sustaining a team for almost a decade?

Daniel Terdiman examined the success factors in a post for Fast Company.

“Not everyone on the original team stayed on board throughout the 14 years between proposal and today, but many have. Besides Hersman and principal investigator Stern, others who are still deeply involved include Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations manager, Glen Fountain, the New Horizons project manager, Mark Holdridge, the Pluto encounter mission manager, and many other team leads and sub-leads who worked on everything from propulsion to communications.

That’s impressive stability. Of course, all these people have other tasks beyond the New Horizons project, but everyone knew it was about to be show time. “People ramped down so they weren’t working much on the project,” Hersman said, “but when the time comes to fly past Pluto, a lot of other stuff gets put on hold, or they find time.”

Terdiman found that a ‘longevity document’ provided the blueprint for the mission including requirements and contact information for every team member. “One other essential element of preparing for the nine-year mission was compiling a spreadsheet of contingencies for when things went wrong. This was useful when ground control temporarily lost communications with the New Horizons probe on July 4 of this year.” And finally, “When it’s all over, look back.”

If the shear wonder of the team’s achievement was not enough, Adrienne Lafrance, writing for the Atlantic, identified another major milestone for the ‘New Horizons’ team:

“For all the firsts coming out of the New Horizons mission—color footage of Pluto, photos of all five of its moons, and flowing datastreams about Pluto’s composition and atmosphere—there’s one milestone worth noting on Earth: This may be the mission with the most women in NASA history.”

“The New Horizons team includes about 200 people today, but there have been thousands of scientists and engineers who have contributed to the mission since it began more than a decade ago. Women make up about one-quarter of the flyby team, those responsible for the high-stakes mission taking place this month, according to NASA.”

And now, for you skeptics who either believe all of this is happening on a sound stage in Burbank or just don’t get why we do science and stretch the limits of our knowledge, I turn to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

In an interview with Lester Holt for NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, the American astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium answered the question of why we do science.

“One of the greatest aspects of what it is to do science is to reach a new vista and then discover that you can now ask questions undreamt of before you got there.”

Tonight, go outside and look up. What do you see? What questions do you have? Imagine being part of a team working to find the answers to those ‘undreamt of’ questions from our new vantage point.

The week@work – soccer, tennis, ballet & other places we work – & returning to work after vacation

It was a good week for women and little girls. The week@work began with the US women who go to work playing soccer and brought home the world cup trophy. And ended with the women who go to work on a tennis court, with Serena Williams winning her sixth Wimbledon championship and twenty-first major. And, while I was away, Misty Copeland was promoted to principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater.

And now for the bad news, good news – compensation. An article in the Washington Post on Thursday detailed the gap in prize money for women and men in major sport.

“The female players who were just crowned the best in the world brought home $2 million, a tiny fraction of the $35 million the German men’s team pocketed for winning the World Cup in Brazil last year. It was even significantly less than the $9 million the U.S. men’s team took home for getting knocked out in the round of 16.

And yet, some sports have reached parity. When the women take Centre Court this Saturday at Wimbledon, the winner will earn the exact same amount — about $2.9 million — as the winner of the men’s final match on Sunday. Since 2007, when Wimbledon and the French Open joined the other Grand Slam tournaments, tennis has provided equal prize money to men and women.”

The ‘places’ we work and returning to those ‘places’ after vacation were also on the week’s agenda.

Fast Company posed the question on Twitter, are you tired of your cubicle? And suggested working from the woods:

“If a quick view of nature at work—or even a lonely plant on your desk—can make you more creative and focused and less stressed, what would happen if you worked from middle of the woods?

When Amsterdam office workers get tired of sitting in a cubicle, they can head out to work from a forest instead. A new caravan of mobile micro-offices—fully equipped with Wi-Fi and solar-powered coffeemakers—is traveling across a network of national parks in the Netherlands.

“The inspiration to create this comes from a longing to be more deeply connected to nature,” says KantoorKaravaan founder Tom van de Beek. “These times of technological innovation and wireless connectivity provide us with the ultimate combination: getting back to nature and self sufficiency in terms of food and energy, and still be able to do our day to day business. In other words: we can now create the 21st-century equivalent of the Garden of Eden.”

The New York Times reported on a new development in the industrial zone of downtown Philadelphia hoping to attract companies in media, advertising and technology.

“They wanted to be able to recruit, to have millennials think that this would be a great place to work,” said Richard R. Previdi, the firm’s operating managing partner.

Mr. Previdi said the new space — named SoNo, for south of Northern Liberties — will be designed to encourage the collaboration that is highly valued by tenants like software companies. “They want everybody talking; they want everybody sharing ideas,” he said.

The redesign will minimize the amount of individual employee space while allowing more for common areas like a cafeteria, a gym and parking space for 70 bicycles. Alliance plans to begin construction by the end of this year, and to complete the project within 24 months.

Over all, the building’s location and design are intended for a “live-work-play” lifestyle in which young urban professionals live near their workplaces and the shops, restaurants and entertainment sites that spring up to meet that demand in Philadelphia and other cities, Mr. Previdi said.”

For many of us, tomorrow marks a return to our work ‘place’ after an extended Fourth of July holiday. Believe it or not, there is post vacation syndrome – PVS. Really. Glamour Magazine recommends limiting your meetings on your first day back. They also suggest you schedule lunches outdoors to maintain that level of fresh air you grew accustomed to on vacation. Great ideas if they fit into your work culture.

If you love what you do, although you miss the sand in your toes or the views from a mountaintop, you will find a way to insinuate your vacation experience into your work day.

The Saturday Read – Leona Francombe ‘The Sage of Waterloo’

This year marks the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo. A number of books have been published to coincide with the anniversary, but it’s the unique storytelling of author Leona Francombe that gives us a very different view of the conflict. The ‘Saturday Read’ this week is ‘The Sage of Waterloo’.

The story begins when a French drummer boy releases a white rabbit into the Hougoumont gardens during the battle on June 18, 1815. Our narrator, William, is guided on his journey by his grandmother, Old Lavender and a wise researcher, Arthur. He invites us to join him along the route the rabbits call the ‘Hollow Way’:

“There are many soft hillocks and hollows along this part of the Way on which one can rest and look back, and I suggest that you do this, too, because the view behind is as clear as the view ahead, and offers some valuable lessons besides.”

Yes, we are talking bunnies. Or, the bunny is talking to us. And along his path we join the Battle of Waterloo.

“Waterloo is small as battlefields go…the Hougoumont part of it even smaller. How extraordinary, then, that my farm – my tiny corner of Belgium, which even today people have difficulty locating on a map – should have made history in just a few hours.”

For those readers unfamiliar with history, the Economist provides a thumbnail description:

“Waterloo not only brought to an end the extraordinary career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose ambitions had led directly to the deaths of up to 6m people. It also redrew the map of Europe and was the climax of what has become known as the second Hundred Years War, a bitter commercial and colonial rivalry between Britain and France that had begun during the reign of Louis XIV. Through its dogged resistance to France’s hegemonic ambitions in the preceding 20 years, Britain helped create the conditions for the security system known as the Concert of Europe, established in 1815. The peace dividend Britain enjoyed for the next 40 years allowed it to emerge as the dominant global power of the 19th century.”

Which brings us back to our story and Arthur, the researcher, and did I mention black bird?, questioning humans’ short term memory.

“…they think they know what happened there. But their evolutionary process seems to be in reverse. They gradually forget the magnitude of what they’ve done – or at least, they’ve managed to disguise their violence as glory – so eventually, in the course of time, they can no longer feel what still hangs in the air. Not the way we do. So they don’t have any qualms about building cafes on burial grounds. They’ve never really stamped out their zeal for warmongering – quite the opposite, actually. They can’t seem to get enough of it.”

Near the end of the book William calculates an alternative if the soldiers had refused to fight: “approximately fifty thousand men would have lived. And ten thousand horses. And who knows how many rabbits?”

“Where did you learn all this?” I asked Arthur, after I’d finished my mulling. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe the things that remain in the woods around Hougoumont,” he said. “The resonance is quite astounding. Small creatures for miles around are still aware of the story.”

This small novel is a unique oral history of the Battle of Waterloo. Blending historical fact with fiction, author Francombe creates an unlikely ‘sage’ to carry the “collective memory…and resonance.” And reminds us to “feel what still hangs in the air” when we visit historic sites.

‘We Are The Champions’ by songwriter Freddie Mercury

On Sunday evening or Monday morning, depending where you were in the world, the US Women’s National Soccer Team defeated the women representing Japan 5-2 in the final of the Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, Canada.

At the end of the game, midfielder Carli Lloyd, who scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes of the final, commented on the victory.

“It’s been a long journey, my career. I’ve had a lot of people believe in me, in my corner, from day one,” said the midfielder, who turns 33 on July 16. “I’ve dedicated my whole life to this. Everything else comes second. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on New York mayor, Bill de Blasio’s decision to recognize the women’s team:

“New York City will hold a ticker-tape parade on Friday for the United States women’s national soccer team, breaking with decades of precedent to bestow a rare honor upon a group that competes outside the metropolitan area.”

The Friday poem this week, on the day of the ticker tape parade, is the lyrics written by Freddie Mercury in 1977 and recorded by Queen. This one is for the members of the team, their families and coaches. And for all the young women and young men who have been inspired by the hard work, dedication and resilience of the US Women’s National Team.

We Are The Champions

I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand
Kicked in my face
But I’ve come through

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the World

I’ve taken my bows
And my curtain calls
You brought me fame and fortune
And everything that goes with it
I thank you all
But it’s been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before
The whole human race
And I ain’t gonna lose

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the World

We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions

Songwriter: Freddie Mercury, 1977

What being a ‘team player’ really means – #AmyRodriguez8

How many times have we heard about being a ‘good team player’? Our ability to ‘play well with others’ may influence a hiring decision or career advancement. In reality, the world of the corporate team player is a bit more ambiguous. Not so in sports. On Sunday, a record television audience watched the US Women’s National Team win the World Cup. There were leaders, the visible few with corporate sponsorships, but the road to the final was won by the ‘team players’.

Why do some teams excel while others fail?

Often folks with competing agendas are brought together to solve a problem or complete a project. Each member contributes based on their skill set, but the process is derailed when goal definition and respect for colleagues is lacking. If a feedback loop has not been included in the planning, dysfunction can continue unchecked.

Which brings me back to the US Women’s National Team and one member, Amy Rodriguez.

You can google Amy and find pages of material documenting her career in soccer. She led her team at USC to a National Championship. She has earned two Olympic Gold Medals. And she is a ‘team player’ who contributed to the success in this year’s world cup.

I met Amy when she was a freshman at the University of Southern California. She was a student in a seminar I taught in the spring of 2006. Over her time at USC we would occasionally stop for a brief conversation in the middle of campus, but for the most part, I have followed her career as most of her fans, from a distance.

But it’s at a distance that you observe the consistency of Amy’s personality, values, dedication and collegiality. Yesterday she had a moment in the spotlight as she led the crowd welcoming the team back to LA in celebration.

There have been many books written about the distinctions between successful teams and those that fail.

In the end, it’s a mutual trust and respect for others that underscores the values of a team player.

Tomorrow the team will receive New York’s highest honor with a ticker tape parade in lower Manhattan. Take a minute to cheer on those who scored the goals and their supporting players.

Congratulations Amy!