NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
NASA's Kennedy Space Center saw a dramatic restructuring in the late 1970s, but the transition now under way is in some ways more substantial given that the entire civilian spaceflight architecture is changing, said two of the main figures behind both evolutions.
"We don't want to lose the lessons we learned, but we also need to see how to operate more efficiently," said Bob Cabana, Kennedy's center director and a former space shuttle commander. "We know where we want to be and we have to go make that happen."
Working to the center's advantage is a newly detailed mission to capture an asteroid using an uncrewed spacecraft and move it to an area near the moon where astronauts can travel to it and take samples for detailed analysis.
"I can't say enough good things about our future," Cabana said. "Let's go off and do something really hard and challenging."
Although that one mission will entail tremendous work and research into the construction of a new, massive rocket, the Space Launch System; a new spacecraft called Orion; and a solar-electric spacecraft strong enough to maneuver an asteroid, Cabana said Kennedy's transition will not stop there.
It also will include numerous launch companies, some partnering closely with NASA's Commercial Crew Program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and others using the center's vast and unique facilities to launch business models of their own.
"We have an opportunity to define what we want our future to be, we are diversifying," Cabana said. "I think that's hugely exciting."
Cabana was joined by Bob Sieck, the iconic former shuttle launch director, for the second in the "Masters with Masters" series of interviews with NASA's Chief Knowledge Officer Ed Hoffman. The session was recorded and will go into the agency's knowledge base.
Both discussed in detail how the approach to spaceflight changed during their careers and what that suggests for the future.
Sieck, who came to Kennedy in 1964 to work in the Gemini program, said the agency's noted workforce adapted repeatedly to changing spacecraft, new rockets and different missions, although it was always resisted by everyone's urge to keep doing things as they had done before.
"You had to understand it's a different mission and you had to do things differently," Sieck said.
The change was most dramatic starting in 1976 as the agency moved from landing astronauts on the moon with Apollo to making spaceflight more routine with the space shuttle. The first shuttle mission launched in 1981, but it would be several more years before the processing and launch teams hit their stride, Sieck said, fueled in part by new workers.
"It wasn't until we got the next generation involved that we really started ticking," Sieck said. "Apollo was a great adventure, but from a performance standpoint, I'd rate shuttle higher."
Both offered several keys to making a successful transition, including not trying to cut corners.
"Transitions are disruptive," Sieck said. "But don't tell us here's why we can't, tell us here's how we can and we'll go get the resources."
Cabana told the audience to embrace assignments, especially ones that are outside their comfort zones. Working with that thought in mind, the agency and its premier launch center will come through this transition strong, he said.
"A lot has to happen between now and then to make this happen," Cabana said. "I think it's a clear definition of where we need to go and we're on board."