John Decker - Moving the Production Along
Associate Director John Decker moves the production along, whether it is one of his flight projects or a play he is starring in.
Associate Director, Flight Projects Directorate
Organization He Works For:
Code 400, Flight Projects Directorate
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
I am the Associate Director of the Flight Projects Directorate. I am the man in charge of the policies and practices for the Directorate. I look out for how and why we do what we do. I figure out how all the policy documents work together. Our bible is the NASA Procedural Requirements 7120.5 document, “NASA Space Flight Program and Project Management Requirements.” I’m the guy who advises the projects on how to follow its policies. I’m like an interpreter or translator of this document. I was the Deputy Project Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope for eight years before accepting my current position, so I understand the project’s point of view and can sympathize with the project managers’ perspective. I was in their shoes, so I think that helps us to communicate and to work better as a team. I try to help keep the misery index down for them and help keep the projects moving forward.
John Decker in his office. Credit: NASA
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Who is the most interesting, inspiring, or amazing person you have met or worked with at Goddard?
I cannot pick a single person, but the team for the Hubble First Servicing Mission was probably the most inspiring group that I have known during my time here. I was part of the Hubble team for fifteen years, and I was with the team on the day when we realized that the primary mirror was fundamentally flawed and that we had to announce that to the world. It was probably the darkest day of my career, but within less than 24 hours we were churning out ideas to repair the Hubble Telescope, which we ultimately did. Our team turned this flawed mirror into an astronomical tool that continues to go beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. Data from Hubble is now used to rewrite astronomy books. For me, this is just a tremendous inspiration about overcoming obstacles and doing what might at first seem impossible.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?
I’ve done many, many cool things over my 26 years here. I’ve been around long enough to have actually worked on the Hubble Telescope on the ground, exercising several of its mechanisms prior to launch. Prior to the early Hubble Servicing Missions, I underwent scuba certification and then assisted in the underwater training for the astronauts in the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Another cool experience was having the astronauts communicate with me, by name, during the servicing missions.
What was your best day or the best thing that ever happened to you at Goddard?
Certainly one of my best days was when we realized that we had successfully fixed Hubble’s mirror. We did several servicing missions, each of which was successful and each of which was a great day for everyone involved.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
People are often surprised to learn that I have what I call a “full-time hobby,” which is that I am very actively involved in theater, both on and off the stage. I am an actor, in both Community Theater and professional productions. I also design and build scenery. Occasionally, I even sing and dance. I have been doing this since high school. I am always involved in a production of one sort or another at one of a half a dozen theaters. Currently, I have one of the leading roles in a professional production of a play called “Shining City” at the Quotidian Theatre Company in Bethesda, Maryland.
Do you have a favorite playwright?
Yes, one of my favorites is Conor McPherson who wrote the play that I’m in right now. He writes very real, very alive, contemporary characters. His plays involve a lot of talking and storytelling in the classic tradition. Anton Chekov is another of my favorites for the same reasons.
› Images of John in his production of "Shining City" at the Quotidian Theatre in Bethesda
› John's performance in "The Mollusc" at the Quotidian Theatre Company II
› More Conversations With Goddard
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.