As the future of NASA is being molded, a lot of buzzwords are being thrown around. Game-changing. Bold. Innovative. One word that you probably aren't hearing with regard to NASA's future endeavors is "failure." And that can be a problem.
From the work I've done with NASA in the past few years, I have learned that we have an extremely risk-averse culture. I'm sure some of you are thinking "Well, isn't that a good thing? We don't want to repeat Challenger or Columbia." And that's true. Ignoring risks is dangerous. But in order to do great things, we have to be willing to evaluate risks and accept some of them. We aren't doing that right now and I worry that we aren't going to get where we want to go until we stop seeing risk as a red light and start seeing it as an opportunity for improvement, consideration, and evaluation.
Wayne Hale wrote an excellent blog post today explaining how failures can lead to exactly the kind of leaps for mankind NASA wants to be known for. I encourage everyone (NASA dorks and non-NASA dorks alike) to check it out. I especially liked his closing line:
Try something. Be bold, revolutionary, even game changing. Just don’t be surprised if you have to pick yourself up off the ground and dust off your pants from time to time. It’s the American way.