Going to Mars
Yesterday morning, along with hundreds of thousands others online, I watched the live HD video feed of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity successfully touch down at Gale Crater as planned/designed. It is a significant milestone, and quite the hallmark of success for a complicated mission. I couldn’t help but think about the dichotomy that is NASA — the rare mix of size, bureaucracy and performance. Over the years, we’ve witnessed their triumphs and their failures, as well as some epic recoveries from disastrous missteps that plague the largest of enterprises. One observation became clear to me, as I listened to the debriefing panel: if you’re not making something better than you’re not relevant.
People rarely get to work in ideal environments, where the balance of team members, tools, and requirements hum in a harmonious unison, while immaculate products are made and delivered. In the real world, set backs are routine and conflicts arise regularly — anything that may potentially throw a wrench, often will. Overcoming these challenges is what sets one apart from another. Whether a company, a product, or an engineering team has any longevity comes down to serving some kind of need. Acting and reacting too slowly, and you may miss the window of opportunity. Not listening, and not understanding the plight of the user, will drive that very business away looking for a different, better, solution. In this competitive market place, there is no place for arrogance or assumption because there will always be alternatives. Technology evolve, things change and if you, your team or your organization behaves like a woolly Mammoth… don’t be surprised when a single innovative caveman armed with a crude axe whacks you on the head.
The exaggeration is for emphasis, because we all know it takes three cavemen to successfully tackle the beast. Meanwhile, there are no perfect launch windows for the MSL. There was an opportunity and then there’s the attention to details, to focus on what needs to be done and planning for the resiliency. It took team work, discipline, and probably million lines of code — of automation — to ensure the successful launch and landing of a space vessel. Comparatively, some of our daily tasks may be more mundane than going to space, but upon successful execution and completion of the goal, it’s still a sense of pride and accomplishment. Get your ass to Mars already.