Executing Strategy Today and Tomorrow
Mission to the Moon, Mars and Beyond
It’s easy to say we learn from our mistakes, but how many of us really do? Well, at NASA they do, very seriously. This week we await the much anticipated launch of NASA’s new Moon rocket – the Space Launch System. This is the most powerful vehicle ever developed by NASA and will form the foundation of its Artemis project, aiming to land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon, but also as a tool to learn, adapt and develop plans for sending the first astronauts to Mars. In Skarbek’s book, Making it Happen: Lessons from the Frontline of Strategy Execution, NASA’s design engineer, William Allen, reveals just how things are done in the world’s most famous space agency. See below an exclusive excerpt from the book…
To boldly go…
For people to go further than they have ever been before, they will need to go for longer periods of time – and use resources they find at their destinations. They will have to overcome radiation, isolation, gravity and the most extreme of environments. As a first step, NASA has designed an entirely new and super powerful rocket, called the Space Launch System, and a new generation human space capsule, Orion, that can support people from launch, through deep space, and back safely to Earth. Together these provide the foundation needed to send humans back to lunar orbit, and as of April 2021, they were nearing the end of testing and development.
The approach to landing and operating on the Moon is one quite different to that in the 1960s. The idea is to have lunar landers that are reusable and that can land anywhere on the lunar surface. NASA has worked out that the simplest way to do this is to have a platform in orbit, around the moon, from which to transition – an orbiting platform to act as a stopover for human capsules. It is calling this lunar outpost, Gateway – and this will sit in balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity in a position that is ideal for launching even deeper space missions.
On later Artemis missions, crew will arrive at the Gateway aboard Orion. On the Gateway, they will be able to conduct research and take trips down to the Moon’s surface. At the lunar south pole, NASA and its partners will develop a Base Camp to support longer expeditions, with a module in which the astronauts can stay, a terrain vehicle, and power systems. A LunaNet will enable robotic landers, rovers and astronauts on the Moon to communicate with a network, similar to that on Earth but with far greater reach. Rovers analysing samples can send data to relays orbiting the Moon, which can then transmit the data back to Earth. When astronauts are on the lunar surface, they will be able to receive real-time alerts of incoming solar flares from space weather instruments, giving them ample time to seek cover. LunaNet will also support positioning, navigation and timing services, allowing for more precise surface operations and science than ever before.
It was over a decade ago, in 2009, that it was discovered that the Moon contains millions of tonnes of ice. This ice can be extracted and purified for water, and be separated into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel. As such, the moon is uniquely suited to prepare and propel astronauts to Mars, and beyond. This technology and methodology, NASA believes can be replicated throughout the Solar System, and represents the next chapter of human space exploration.
One man’s story
With the exception of this one chapter, every story in this book has been about one remarkable individual (or sometimes two or three), who through their personal vision and sense of purpose, their commitment and hard work, have made things happen. They are inspiration for all of us to know that we have it within us to make a difference. This story is different because the vision is already defined and centrally governed and co-ordinated by the biggest space agency in the world. Nonetheless, within NASA, as well as the academic and industry partners working in collaboration, there are tens of thousands of stories of human endeavour that come together to make it happen. One such story is that of William Allen, a mechanical design engineer who has spent his entire working life, over 35 years, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. One of ten NASA field centres dotted across the United States, JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology and its charter is to research and develop unmanned vehicles for space exploration. In order of complexity, these are spacecraft that ‘flyby’ a planet, then ‘orbit’ it, then ‘land’ on a planet and finally ‘rove’ on the surface of a planet. The latest project that William Allen worked on was the extraordinarily sophisticated new rover, Perseverance, that we witnessed land on Mars on 18 February 2021. These robotic missions are the stepping stones for man and woman to follow in a journey to the red planet…
Read more about William’s story in our book: ‘Making It Happen – Lessons from the Frontline of Strategy Execution’.