Neil Armstrong (left) with Dianne Devitt (right)

I recently had the privilege of working with the brilliant women and men at MIT to plan the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The name of the event was “Giant Leaps: Perspective is Everything” – and yes, it certainly is for all of us. The program ran for three days and involved a total of seven events, from a symposium to a symphony hall, where Buzz Aldrin narrated the 1937 Gustav Mahler film, The Planets, while accompanied by the glorious Boston Pops, led by Keith Lockhart. It was a magical and fitting tribute to the history-defining team of Apollo 11, who are sadly not with us to acknowledge this year’s 50th anniversary.

On the half-century anniversary of the moon landing, I’d like to publicly thank MIT, and specifically the AeroAstro Department, for the opportunity to be involved with this very special event. I’d also like to acknowledge my stellar team – Jennifer, Kathy, Vickie, Paul, Mary Ann, Carol, Ana, Denise, and so many more – who made our operation as successful as it was. One moment I will always remember is when Christopher Kraft, NASA’s first flight director, commented that our job was similar to his in overseeing the operation and keeping the fish swimming upstream… Hardly, Mr. Kraft, but thank you for the acknowledgement!

Former Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft working in his study among his spacecraft models and computers. Chris Kraft served as flight director for all the Mercury launches and the initial Gemini missions.

To be successful in anything we do requires taking risks. This means having the courage to make giant leaps in our own lives and always working to grow. By doing so, we not only discover new pathways, but we learn more about ourselves, our infinite potential, and our value to humankind. 

In the planning process for this event, I spoke with experts, did my research, read heaps of documentation, and learned valuable lessons that have the potential to resonate with all of us.

  • President Kennedy had a vision to go to Mars. Mr. Robert Seamans, NASA Deputy Administrator at the time, informed President Kennedy that the Moon was attainable. Once Mr. Seamans was realistic about reaching the President’s goal, MIT began its pivotal role in accomplishing that mission. 

Do you and your team take the time to discuss and analyze the reality of reaching your goal?

  •  Everyone involved with Apollo 11 had the same objective: to make the mission successful. Period. 

How would you rate your current team, whether in-house or virtual, and their collective energy at work?

  • To complete their mission, the team was comprised of the best possible talent. Each member showed enthusiasm, tenacity, and commitment to push their limits and get the job done.

Are you surrounded by the best people to do the job? If they are not performing to their potential, how can you better motivate them? What might be missing?

  • Members if the team worked together, regardless of the various companies with which they were involved. Whether the were hired by NASA, Grumman, Boeing, or Lockheed Martin, they did their part to contribute to one collective mission.

Are you open, honest, and trusting of your strategic partners and the vendors with whom you collaborate? Do you share information freely so that everyone can maximize their job performance?

  • Everyone openly shared their mistakes and used them as growth opportunities for themselves and the rest of the team. 

How can our mistakes be used as case studies for growth and for the creation of new efficiencies? There truly are no mistakes in an open, trusting environment. We all make human errors, which are essential to our improvement.

  • They were collectively proud of the work they accomplished, but above all, their top priority was the well-being of the astronauts.

In your work, do you always think of the people first? Their personal challenges, professional goals, and ways in which you can provide support? 

  • No matter the obstacle, solutions were provided with ample back-up.

When someone asks you to provide back-up, do you take the time to think and offer feedback that is beneficial, non-judgmental, free of personal opinions, and which can contribute to the greater good?

  • The technology of the time was refined to meet the demands of the project.

Do you challenge yourself to learn something new everyday? Do you use technology as a tool, rather than as a mechanism to waste time and escape into mindlessness? 

  • The team diligently documented all possible information, which is still available for researchers today. 

How much information do you collect that may be able to help others down the road? Are you taking the time to organize your work, so it can become part of future research? Do you file and date your work, so it can be tracked? 

  • For a mission as important as Apollo 11, the team crossed their ‘t’s and dotted their ‘i’s, and then went back to check their work again and again. The Apollo 11 checklists and pre-event simulations were as extensive as they could be.

What is your own quality control habit? Do you check your work and have someone else look at it before you submit? Do you wait a day before sending an important email, so you can read it with fresh eyes and make quality edits?

The next time you think you are facing an insurmountable obstacle, think again. How can you apply the lessons from the Apollo 11 team? Work together to accomplish extraordinary things for mankind. It just takes one small step.