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Roundup Presents: The Directors Series (XA)

Noah J. Michelsohn |
August 26, 2019

Spacewalks, Moon 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 mission success.”

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.
John McCullough, director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center.