NASA Flight Director: Mission Control Relies on Maturity, Passion

Space: the final frontier. Questing humanity wouldn’t have reached this far into space without the collective wisdom of its elders.

That’s one of the takeaways from, The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, a free, downloadable NASA book.

Toledo ties to the ISS

According to University of Toledo graduate, Dr. Robert Dempsey, NASA flight director and lead author of the 400-page book, while the science is amazing, and space itself is dazzling, this is a book about teamwork—specifically, the behind-the-scenes, often invisible effort of the mission control team behind the ISS (International Space Station).

“Growing up, watching the Voyager and the Apollo missions, I was always blown away by the technology,” Dempsey says. “When I came to work for NASA, I learned that it’s the teamwork, the men and women fretting over all the details, that makes missions successful.”

At NASA, teamwork dovetails with career longevity. Mission control means long hours, hard work and the sometimes awesome responsibility of holding astronauts’ lives in your hands. That reality, Dempsey says, tends to weed out “those who just think it’s kind of cool to do work like this, but don’t have the drive and passion to see it through.”

The love of space

A 20-year veteran of the space station program, Dempsey notes that his NASA years mirror those of many contemporaries: “We’re still with the agency we love. We can’t imagine doing anything else. Sometimes we’re amazed that NASA pays us to do what we do!”

The ISS inspires people, as Dempsey sees during his many speaking engagements: “I love talking about the ISS and the public never runs out of questions about it.”

Built to conduct cutting-edge research, the ISS on any given day is performing hundreds of experiments, but years pass between inspiration and public application—the same approval process required for a new medical drug or treatment, Dempsey says, adding “Most people don’t get to see the exciting stuff leading into it.”

Dempsey and his co-writers spent four years distilling that excitement for the book, but he notes that more stories remain, many of them about how program veterans are crucial in solving new challenges.

Future according to Dempsey

It could be said that NASA, itself, is in its maturity, having seen triumphs and tragedies, enough to acquire a collective wisdom. Dempsey concurs, adding that the space agency’s “new space” partnerships with private corporations are building on that wisdom. Just one example is Dempsey’s own professional focus: partnering with U.S. private companies to build transport vehicles for the ISS since the space shuttle program ended.

“NASA provides seed money, but the private companies have to put financial skin in the game as well,” he explains.

Ultimately, the aim is to have private companies performing more of the ISS daily operations, leaving NASA free to focus on deeper space activities like missions to the moon and Mars. Dempsey adds, “It’s a very exciting time. This is scientific progress that also benefits American industry.” And mission controllers will be right in the middle of it.

Download the book at go.usa.gov/xQbvH. Read it and share it with children and grandchildren to inspire the next generation of space exploration.

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