Rocks, and Building Blocks
NASA’s various organizations and programs fit together like
pieces of a giant puzzle: Each one is important for creating the bigger
picture, but fitting them together can be accomplished in a variety of ways and
is frequently a challenge.
At NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Exploration Integration
and Science Directorate (EISD) is focused on connecting those pieces. Its goal
is to foster a collaborative atmosphere to enhance exploration capabilities and
achieve daring missions.
“This organization is the front door for exploration at JSC,”
said John McCullough, the director of EISD. “Our job is to maximize the diverse
skillsets at the center and across the agency to make the mission successful.”
McCullough leads by leaning on lessons in teamwork he has
learned through his own diverse background at NASA. During his 30 years at
NASA, McCullough has served the agency in a variety of roles, including IMAX
mission manager, shuttle payload officer, flight director, Chief of the
Spaceflight Training Management Office, Chief of the Flight Director Office, Manager
of the Orion Vehicle Integration Office, and now as the director of JSC
Exploration Integration and Science.
“I’ve been blessed throughout my career with unique opportunities
to develop my skills and step into challenging roles and missions, working with
amazing teams each step of the way,” McCullough said.
These experiences taught McCullough to look at the full
scope of missions, from early definition and development through execution and
post-flight lessons learned. This has been key in leading EISD as the
organization focuses on everything from mission assessment and planning, to
spacewalks, to curating samples from other worlds.
While the areas in EISD may be so diverse that it can be
surprising to see them each grouped together in one directorate, there is a key
thematic element of EISD that resonates through each of the areas.
“We are the only organization at Johnson that has been brought
together and driven by the unique theme of exploration” McCullough said. “Exploration
drives everything we do and allows us to communicate in a focused way to build
relationships across the center, the agency and the world.”
Relationships are key to fostering a collaborative
environment between NASA’s internal organizations and the agency’s
international and commercial partners. McCullough has worked to position Johnson
Space Center as a key partner for NASA’s lunar campaign by focusing on four key
leadership principles; customer-oriented service, mission focus, team
development, and technical excellence.
“We bring together the right people and expertise, making
sure that all the stakeholders are involved,” McCullough said. “It is incumbent on us to help enable NASA to maximize
all of the skills it has to be successful in human exploration. A key focus for
this organization is communicating capabilities as well as leveraging and
integrating the teams from early formulation through program support for
Currently, the EISD team is working with agency leadership
to piece together the mission architecture and construct plans for how astronauts
will live and work on the lunar surface. This includes everything from early
surface deliveries to curation and analysis after the astronauts return samples
to the Earth.
“It really is end-to-end exploration,” McCullough said. “From
early mission conceptual design work and maximizing science return, to key hardware,
technology, and partnership development, to supporting program integration for
Moon, Mars and Gateway; we help all of the programs and organizations involved
knit that mission together.”
Some of EISD’s early work for NASA’s Artemis Program included
managing the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload System (CLPS) that will deliver
early science payloads to the Moon, and developing the xEMU, a new exploration spacesuit
with enhanced mobility and improved capabilities that astronauts will wear while
working on the lunar surface.
Both of these programs are advancing rapidly and are on the
leading edge of demonstrating NASA’s ability to get to the Moon. CLPS will
begin delivering payloads to the Moon as early as 2020, and systems for the xEMU
are being tested on the International Space Station this year to ensure there
will be a suit ready to fly to meet the 2024 ‘boots on the moon’ call to arms.
“How do we get to the Moon by 2024? Each of us makes sure
that it’s not our piece that slows it down,” McCullough said. “This is the
mission we want and we must engage to seize the moment.”
As NASA prepares to inspire the world once again by sending
astronauts to the south pole of the Moon with the Artemis Program and then
going on to Mars, McCullough feels a personal connection to the mission,
stemming from an innate belief inside him: Exploration is in our DNA. He
believes exploration is human destiny, and we must move beyond the Earth’s
environment to survive.
“To help the public understand our challenge, look at the
universe like a grand video game, with resources scattered across the map and
increasing difficulty levels as you go,” McCullough said. “Eventually we either
run out of resources before we can make it to the next level and lose, or we get
to a place where humanity can carry on. The Moon is a key resource, a critical first
step 1,000 times further than space station. We need to learn to utilize our
limited resources at the lunar surface to take the giant leaps to Mars and beyond.
Mars is 2,000 times further than the moon and it gets more challenging from
there, we want to stay in the game.”
Noah J. Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center
John McCullough is director for NASA's Exploration Integration and Science Directorate at Johnson Space Center.This story is part 11 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.
John McCullough, director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center.