It was s a melancholy moment to watch the last space shuttle, Atlantis, lift off into space. After thirty years of history-making missions, the shuttle program is coming to an end. It is expected to be at least three years before we will launch another U.S.-built space craft.
Atlantis commander, Chris Ferguson, said, “The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. … Let’s light this fire one more time, and witness this great nation at its best.”
The space program was launched by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 when he shared one of the most effective “vision” statements ever created, “Before this decade is out we will put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.” That short sentence changed the course of history.
Why did that vision statement work when so many fail?
- It was bold. It inspired people to think in terms that exceeded their goals up until that point.
- It was clear. Everyone with a role to play knew the job that laid ahead–a US spacecraft was to be built and launched, it had to be able to land on the moon (not just explore space, nor go planet hopping), and it had to return passengers safely to earth (sure made it easier to get astronauts interested in the program!). Everyone had the same understanding.
- It was actionable. Since it was clear about the goal, people understood what was expected of them and could set out to work together to get it done. When the outcome is fuzzy people don’t know where to start.
- It captured the heart. The idea of landing an American man on the moon engaged the hearts and minds of not only the world of science exploration but galvanized the imagination and enthusiasm of a country.
It has been an honor to be able to witness this bit of history and we can only hope that the next generation of space exploration will be as successful and meaningful. Let’s hope we have a clear vision to guide the mission.