Building a Team for the Future
Engineering may be the largest directorate at NASA’s Johnson
Space Center, but it feels like a small team. Fostering this tight-knit atmosphere
is a skill that the director of the Engineering Directorate, Kevin Window, developed
while growing up in a small Louisiana town and refined while serving in the United
“The way I do things is based on a military upbringing,”
Window said. “From a leadership perspective, you have to learn how to take care
of your troops. What I have earned a reputation for is taking care of my people—they’re
Window is so adamant about fostering relationships with his
team that he personally delivers a candy cane to each member of his directorate
during the holiday season. This tradition started while managing a small team in
the International Space Station Program Office, and has grown to include more
than 2,000 deliveries as he leads a diverse engineering team that supports a
broad range of spaceflight activities.
“JSC Engineering is all about the development, testing and
certification of human spaceflight systems,” Window said. “From hardware to
software, we have the skillset to accomplish anything necessary to make our
Because Engineering covers such a broad scope, the
directorate is divided into seven divisions, each with independent leadership
teams and management structures that focus on different technical areas of
spaceflight. The seven divisions are Avionics, Crew and Thermal Systems,
Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics, Propulsion and Power, Software, Robotics and
Simulation, Structural Engineering and Project Management and Systems
By pushing management decisions down to the division level,
Window is able to lead the directorate strategically and spend more time finding
ways to unite with other Johnson directorates, NASA centers and commercial
This approach has resulted in a more agile organization that
accomplishes projects quickly and affordably by reducing requirements in
testing and making faster decisions.
A success story resulting from this new business model is
the Seeker project, which Engineering and the International Space Station
program developed to challenge early career employees to enhance their technical
and leadership skills. Comprised of newer engineers led by a senior-level
program manager, the Seeker team was tasked with developing a satellite capable
of deployment and fly out from a space vehicle to prove capabilities for future
free-flying inspection tools.
The team was challenged to build, test and fly the project
in a one year timeframe—a daring mission that they accepted and accomplished.
“Doing projects this way is a risk-based decision; you
accept that it may not work,” Window said. “This project wasn’t something that we
had to critically rely on. Instead, we were building and flying so that we could
learn. Even if the project doesn’t always work, you learn from the process itself.”
While innovative projects like Seeker provide early career engineers
an opportunity to test their skills with unique challenges, the directorate is
also leveraging decades of experience to improve systems developed for the space
station to innovate new strategies that will enable NASA to establish a sustainable
human presence at the Moon with NASA’s Lunar Gateway, a small spaceship that
will orbit the Moon.
“When we compare station and Gateway, there are similarities
that allow us to lean on our expertise,” Window said. “I’m strategically aligning
the workforce so that we can take the lessons we have learned from station and
apply that to the lunar campaign.”
The directorate is extensively involved in NASA’s Orion spacecraft
that will ferry astronauts to Gateway and around the Moon. Among many elements
of work Engineering has done for Orion, the directorate designed, developed,
and tested the parachute system, developed software, and played a key role
in the Ascent Abort test. The team is
also preparing for lunar surface operations by developing new spacesuits for astronauts
to use on the surface and improving the Active Response Gravity Offload System
(ARGOS), which trains astronauts to work in environments with different levels
of gravity, such as the Moon and Mars.
In addition to NASA’s own developments, Engineering has been
building on relationships developed through the Commercial Crew Program to
prepare NASA’s partners for commercial lunar missions.
“We are not only building our own systems, but also
designing the story boards to show the unique capabilities of Johnson
engineering and how partners can buy down risk by leveraging Johnson’s
expertise for lunar development work,” Window said.
While Window knows that he has the team in place to
accomplish these daring missions to the Moon and Mars, he also understands that
to explore new destinations, he must ensure that his team has access to the
newest skills and information.
“I’m only as good as the team I have working for me,” Window
An example of his determination to develop his team is the
fellowship program within Engineering, which Window established as a means to
make sure that his team has the skillset necessary to support all facets of
“I’m not going to be here forever,” Window said. “Employees
that are earlier in their career today are going to be the ones who take us to
Mars, so we have to prepare those folks to develop programs that will enable
those next giant leaps.”
Whether those future leaps are on Mars or another planet
across the solar system, the foundation of those missions starts right here at
Johnson, ensuring there is a skillset of the future … and a candy cane at every
Noah J. Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center
Kevin Window is the director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center.This story is part nine of The Directors Series, highlighting Johnson’s mission of Dare. Unite. Explore. Stay tuned for stories from each directorate and find previous stories on the directors website.
Kevin Window, Director of Engineering for NASA's Johnson Space Center.