George Morrow - Forward-Thinking Flight Projects Director
By careful thinking and planning ahead, George Morrow’s career rocketed from a chemical engineering student to Director of Goddard’s Flight Projects who oversees the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Web Telescope among other projects.
Director, Flight Projects Directorate
Organization He Works For:
Code 400, Flight Projects Directorate
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
The only thing that is typical about every one of my days is meetings, meetings, meetings. My days go from 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 or 6:00 at night and are almost solidly booked with back to back meetings even through lunch. This might sound boring or inefficient, but with 25 or more projects under my responsibility at any one time and with many, many customers and stakeholders, face-to-face meetings are essential to keeping each effort on track.
Although I personally do not work with any cool tools, I am responsible for providing the resources including the cool tools for all projects at Goddard. Some of these projects include the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, Magnetospheric-Multiscale, Landsat, Global Precipitation Mission, Joint Polar Satellite System, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite System, and Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.
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George Morrow near his office. Credit: NASA
Teamwork and collaboration are essential. My secret is to listen and to hear which are different. Someone can be hearing without listening. To me, listening is processing, understanding, and then allowing yourself to look at the situation from the other’s point of view.
You have been the Director of Flight Projects since August 2007. What is your philosophy for your Directorate?
I always tell our people that the reason we design and implement missions is to return science data from space to enable research, not to develop new hardware or technology. It is all about the science research and science data. Without our scientists, there would be no reason to have Flight Projects.
You have worked on Center for 28 years, 23 years in the Flight Projects Directorate. As the Director, how has your perspective changed?
When I was at a lower level in an organization, even as a Project Manager, I was only thinking about how to make that one project successful. As the Director responsible for all flight projects, I must enable them all to be successful and to work conflicts between them for the good of all. In addition, as a senior member of the Goddard executive staff, I not only have responsibility for enabling the success of all of our flight projects, but I also have responsibility to contribute to make the institution of Goddard successful. Goddard is a city. We have buildings, roads, police, computer networks, power plants, and phone systems. As a Director, all of these activities also require my support.
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George leaning against his Harley. Courtesy: G. Morrow
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?
Before becoming the Director of Flight Projects, I was a systems engineer on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) project then the Observatory Manager, Deputy Project Manager for the HST Development Project, and HST Deputy Program Manager. I played a key role in the success of the First HST Servicing Mission that enabled HST to see clearly. This mission was also critical to NASA, which at that time needed a big success.
Is there something surprising about you that people do not generally know?
I am a chemical engineer by education. One day, my chemistry professor at the University of Virginia
announced that a former student had sent him a job announcement for Goddard. I followed up on the lead. The job was to support the Goddard Space Power Applications Branch, which had responsibility for spacecraft energy storage systems, themselves electrochemical systems, so my background fit. I was interviewed and then hired.
What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?
I went from being a component engineer, to a systems engineer, to Observatory Manager, to Deputy Project Manager, to Project Manager, to Director of Flight Projects at Goddard. I thought out my career path from the start. I spent my first five years here working on battery and power systems supporting most of Goddard’s flight projects. Because I supported many projects, I learned how projects were managed. From that view, I decided that my dream was to become a Project Manager. I then sought out a broader systems engineering position, which is how I came to work on HST in 1988, 23 years ago. Goddard does flight projects so that’s what I wanted to do. Now I am Director of Flight Projects. What is more exciting than developing and launching spaceflight projects?
I would tell newcomers to Goddard to expose yourselves to as many activities and projects as you can. Decide what you would like to be when you “grow up.” Think and plan the career steps to enable you to reach your goal and then pursue them.
What are the next steps for you?
I have a Masters in Engineering Administration from George Washington University. I might like to pursue a PhD in management. This would enable me at some point to be an adjunct professor or professor to provide others with the benefit of my experience and diverse background. This is right now a future thought among many I have following my career at NASA.
Is there something else surprising about you?
Yes, I have a Harley Sportster Motorcycle. When I’m out riding by myself, it is mindlessly therapeutic and clears my head. But I also like to ride with others, which makes it a social activity. I am always very cautious and use the latest safety equipment including a helmet.
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.