Teamwork at NASA is Crucial



Space travel is a big human project that started more than 50 years ago during the “cold war” when the United States recognized the technical advances of their rival Soviet Union (now the Russian Federation). The program developed out of a military culture. The first people to enter space were military test pilots and those developing increasingly advanced aircraft and aerospace vehicles. The first rockets used in the space program were military rockets.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is now a civilian agency. However, the language and culture of the staff involved in space flight is still strongly influenced by military culture. The reason for this is that the military chain of command and military language creates a high level of teamwork. The language is very clear and each communication includes important checks to make sure what is said is acknowledged and understood. Clarity and predictability of action among people is the essence of teamwork. This is vitally important in space as it is in any dangerous and unpredictable environment. Predictable behavior is also what creates teams and makes team members into an adhesive unit.

There are about 18,000 people employed in NASA. This includes a wide range of professions with the goal of developing space travel. Nowadays, part of the mission has been passed to corporate teams. But NASA and corporate teams in the space enterprise share the same teamwork culture. There are two kinds of teamwork. One is the large scale teamwork among a range of professions which solve the many engineering and social psychological problems that go into successful space exploration. The other is the intimate teamwork among astronauts and cosmonauts who work together during a mission.

Thousands of teams support the day to day operation of the space program and build and develop the instruments of future space operations. Aeronautics engineers solve the physics problems of realizing space vehicles. Designers turn the theory into build-able shape. Computer programmers and systems analysts develop the computer tools necessary for the other professionals and maintain computer system. Electronics technicians solve the problems involved in creating and fixing actual hardware. Machinists turn ideas into metal. Ground crews handle the scheduling, maintenance, launch details of actual flights and maintain working contact with the astronauts and cosmonauts themselves. There are hundreds of trainers, testers, personnel experts, psychologists who keep those at the center of risky space exploration in tip-top shape.

To some forward thinkers, the space adventure is an enormous opportunity with vast payoff in future products and business opportunity. To others space is a vast unexplored frontier open to pioneering and investigation. The adventurers and the entrepreneurs must work in tandem and sympathy, bringing together the vast intellectual resources and capitol necessary to carry out this major human endeavor.

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