Over the summer, Mr. Bartender and I attended NASA’s Ascent Abort flight test. The Ascent Abort flight test was a simulation designed to ensure that NASA can maintain astronaut safety in case of an emergency. The test flight was done as part of the preparations for next year’s Artemis launch.
We’ve lived in Florida a long time and believe it or not…we’ve never been to a launch! This one was special because we applied for (and received) special passes as part of NASA’s social media squad. So, we spent the day touring NASA facilities and learning more about the organization. While the day was focused on science, it occurred to me that during this day of fun and education that there were some career lessons to be learned.
- Set goals and be patient. It took us a long time to get accepted into the NASA social media squad. We’re talking years to find an event where we both were approved and we both had the time available. If you want something, then you have to be willing to stay focused and be persistent. If you’re not willing to do that, then is it time to ask yourself if this is the right goal?
- Do work that you enjoy. We had the chance to hear from a couple of NASA engineers working on the project and they talked about how they got their jobs. One explained that he entered a robotics competition being hosted by NASA. His entry got him an internship, which ultimately got him the job. It goes to show you that you can play games, have fun, and still make a living. Some great career lessons!
- There are many career paths. When we think about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), keep in mind that there are lots of different kinds of science. The engineers we spoke with (see #2) talked about the value of other sciences like biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc. The point being that organizations like NASA look for candidates in all of these areas.
- Diversity matters. Adding to point #3 above about different sciences, NASA shared on several occasions how diversity and inclusion have helped them reach their goals. While the movie “Hidden Figures” doesn’t always paint NASA in that light, maybe they’ve had their own career lessons from the past and embraced how different people from different backgrounds can unite for the love of space.
- Be curious. Speaking of rallying behind the love of space, that was certainly the case with our social media squad. We were quite a diverse group from different parts of the country, different occupations, different ages/races/genders/etc. What made us a group was our mutual curiosity about space. I equate this to all of the innovation we see today in technology. We might not have all the answers, but we’re curious.
- Learn how to problem-solve. There’s a famous scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the engineers at NASA are challenged to put a square peg in a round hole to save the astronauts in space. I love the way that the lead engineer sets up the scene in terms of the goal and what the crew has available to them to fix the problem. We all face challenges and have limited resources. The question becomes how do we still get things done?
- Always practice safety and security. Finally, I saved this one for last on purpose. Always, always, always be safe. NASA did a great job of practicing safety and security – from our pre-arrival background checks (yes, we had to do them) to on-site badges, etc. It might be tempting to cut corners at times, but we need to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves or others in jeopardy.
We had a wonderful time at NASA headquarters in Central Florida. It was educational and exciting. But it also made me realize the importance of setting goals, working with people who were different from me, and staying curious. Because those are the things that will allow us to go to the next galaxy with our career.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at Kennedy Space Center and yes, that is a real sign.11