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Top Center GoalsLead human space exploration—it’s that simple

September 27, 2016

Many moons ago, Johnson Space Center had a mission statement so long, so wordy and so convoluted that no one—if randomly approached—could actually remember it, much less recite it verbatim. It was much like this article’s opening sentence.

It had to go.

This past March, JSC Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa assigned different members of her senior leadership team to flesh out important JSC 2.0 initiatives for 2016. She appointed Brian “BK” Kelly, director of the Flight Operations Directorate (FOD), to lead her JSC 2.016 tiger team tasked to help JSC better Connect to the Mission.

Their mission, readily accepted, seemed modest on the surface.

“It was to identify a clear, crisp mission statement for [JSC] that would be easily understood and readily repeatable,” Kelly said. “We were also tasked with identifying the priorities of work that we needed to focus on at JSC.”

They did not take the easy way out, draft some lines and proclaim, “Finished.”  The team understood that these limited words had to pack an actionable punch and gain the support of the collective JSC team.

“Our team of senior leaders met fairly regularly over the course of a month, and we talked about what we believed to be our vision, our mission and our priorities,” Kelly said. “After that, we conducted more than 10 focus-group discussions with the stakeholders, where we put up the results of what our senior executive team had drafted and said, ‘Here’s what we’re all about, but we want buy-in. We want to make certain that the vision and mission statement mean something to you, as well as to us.’ And then we gathered feedback and came to closure on what we believed the mission statement and priorities were.”

That mission statement, perfect in its simplicity, is: Lead Human Space Exploration.

Along with the mission statement, the group identified four priorities that this center is particularly laser-focused on:
  • Maximize use of the International Space Station
  • Enable success of the Commercial Crew Program
  • Develop Orion for future missions
  • Build the foundation for human missions to Mars
These priorities, stacked with our mission statement, represent JSC and its purpose.

“We have so much going on at [JSC] right now,” Kelly said. “It’s an exciting, fabulous time when you really think about it, but we have limited resources. We have to figure out what we need to focus on.”

The four priorities help, well, prioritize. They also allow JSC team members to see where they fit into the overall big picture of leading human space exploration.

“It enables everybody to connect to what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “In Flight Operations, it’s pretty clear for my folks. It’s sending 800 to 1,000 commands daily to the International Space Station, it’s training the astronauts for spaceflight, it’s conducting our aviation missions regularly and routinely, [so] there’s a very strong correlation to the newly drafted mission. But it’s not limited to the operators or to the engineers. If you’re in Procurement, you are a part of the team that is leading human space exploration. You’re a piece of making certain that we maximize the use of the International Space Station. In FOD alone, we’re going from over 20 procurement mechanisms down to hopefully closer to a half dozen. And that helps us free up resources [for the four priorities].”

With JSC 2.016, “we are leading change,” Kelly said. “It’s going to set us up for a really neat future.”

Is it really that simple? Kelly thinks so. And it starts, first and foremost, by connecting to the mission.

“We are the tip of the human spaceflight spear,” Kelly said. “We lead human space exploration for this agency—and the agency, the country and those we work with are counting on us to go do that. And every single individual needs to be able to respond when asked, ‘What do you do at [JSC]?’ We lead human space exploration.”

After repeating the mission statement, Kelly did let slip, “and it’s cool as heck.”

Whether you subconsciously add that to the end of JSC’s mission statement, however, is up to you.
 Aerial shot of Johnson Space Center
An aerial shot of Johnson Space Center, where we Lead human space exploration. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair

Catherine Ragin Williams
NASA Johnson Space Center