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The reinvention of NASA



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Project Apollo Archive / NASA Johnson Space Center / Flickr

NASA today is a very different animal than the NASA of the 1960s. Although many would call the decade of NASA a golden age, we would argue that NASA's innovation and influence are even greater today.

Since the Apollo program, NASA has faced funding cuts, competition from other countries for space governance and radical restructuring due to the advent of business premises that have forced the organization to change its thinking and operating practices

NASA has not only delivered crucial technologies to society in recent decades, such as water filtration systems, satellite-based search and rescue and UV coating on eyewear, it has also developed its dominant logic and business model. NASA has evolved from a hierarchical, closed system that develops its technologies internally into an open network organization that encompasses open innovation, agility, and collaboration.

This innovation shows that substantial organizational change is possible, even with barriers such as regulation and politics. It provides an example of what we call "strategic agility" or the ability to effectively (and continuously) adapt a company's behavior. This is driven not by a single leader, but by a multitude of champions scattered across the organization, driving forward initiatives that are slowly bringing about change.

The Challenges for NASA

During the Apollo program, NASA funds reached 4.5% of the federal total budget (US $ 5250 million) in 1966. But shortly after the first moon landing in 1969, it crashed Budget. It currently amounts to less than 0.5% of the federal budget.

Meanwhile, the missionary ambitions of the organization became bolder. The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 (and changes in 1988 and 2004) called on government agencies such as NASA to support the development and growth of retail space. This required not only a collaborative approach, but also a differentiation of missions. As commercial space agencies began to drive more Earth orbits (up to 2,000 km from Earth), NASA had to relocate its efforts to space exploration, carry out manned missions, and set up permanent facilities on the Moon as a gateway to missions to and from Mars Furthermore.

The emergence of commercial space has also gone hand in hand with an accelerated pace of technology development. This means that the technologies necessary for successful space exploration, especially human space travel beyond the Earth's low orbit, can not all be developed by a single organization. NASA needed to be more outward-looking and network-oriented in order to develop and acquire the technologies it needs.

The competing nations have also expanded their space exploration efforts. The aerospace industry is today a global, multi-stakeholder multi-stakeholder business where commercial activity is the lion's share of value. (More than three-quarters of the $ 350 billion of space industry worldwide revenue is derived from commercial products, services, infrastructure, and support industries.) The maintenance of NASA and US space leadership required a new form of organization and competition.

Adapting to Change

The reinvention of NASA was a development that spanned three phases, each of which was geared to achieving different goals, characterized by specific technology strategies, cultural values, and the nature of cooperation with external parties was

from 1960 to 1990) : In the early days, NASA served as both a prime contractor and an exclusive customer of space technologies. This model made sense for several reasons. First, the frontier technologies that NASA needed were not yet available on the market; They had to be redeveloped by specialized contractors. Second, the Cold War and the space race meant that NASA needed to have control over the resulting technology, rather than the technology provided by contractors after development on the market. Third, NASA's military heritage, and more broadly the procurement processes of government agencies at the time, meant that it exhibited cost-plus contracts and owned the resulting technology.

Remember the Apollo program in the 1960s. NASA gave the contractors detailed specifications (such as North American Aviation, which built the command / service module of the Apollo spacecraft, and Ford Aerospace, which built mission control) and defined what should be done and how. NASA, funded purely by the government, contributed the total cost and became the owner of the resulting technology.

In this model, the relational approach was one of positional authority and hierarchy. NASA focused on the development and monitoring of precise technical specifications. NASA engineers had great control over what the contractors did. The technology strategy focused on agent-driven investments and tight control over internally developed technologies. there was a sense of technological superiority and the extraordinary that developed from the government's efforts to attract the brightest scientists.

The Transition Model (1993-2006): This phase began with the International Space Station project. In 1993, NASA was commissioned by the White House to work with other nations to design and build the International Space Station. The organizations involved were the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Roscosmos.

The ISS was a necessary step in the grand goal of human missions in space, such as Mars, a central concern of NASA for decades. A return trip to Mars would take about 21 months, depending on a variety of factors. NASA needed to understand what would happen to the human body during extended space missions, and the ISS would provide a way to gather this knowledge by stationing astronauts on the space station for a long time. But ISS would be too expensive for a single country to build on its own.

During this transition phase, NASA learned how to operate within a bundle of partners rather than being the dominant party in a supplier / buyer relationship. This required shifts in cultural values, relational approaches and technology strategy.

Culturally, the sense of technological superiority developed during the Apollo program was still present, but now there were more players with their own cultures, technologies, and operating models. NASA needed to learn to work together. In addition, greater cost awareness evolved as the American public and politicians began questioning the resources the agency needed. Unlike the Apollo era, when resources were not a barrier to winning the space race, NASA now had to complete its missions as efficiently as possible and highlight its added value to society. She invested more in external communication.

Relationally, the hierarchical pecking order of the traditional model had to accommodate a cluster of international governmental organizations. NASA negotiated, coordinated and guided the network of international space agencies to realize one of the most complex endeavors of humanity to design and build the ISS. The work was distributed: NASA's ISA Program Managers directed the effort on an operational level and worked with international partners to implement the program. There were 15 centers around the world that focused on ISS; In the US, much of the ISS training and program management took place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA's technology strategy also evolved to capitalize on state partner investment and share technical responsibility. The Agency worked with its partners to develop common technical interfaces, standards and protocols and learned how to operate in public-public partnerships.

The Network Model (from 2006 to today): The network model began with the "Commercial Resupply Services" program, which was launched in 2006 to provide cargo after the Space Shuttle has been evacuated to the International Space Station transport. The retreat of the space shuttle meant that NASA had to find other ways to refill the ISS, which was not only reliable but also required fewer resources than the Space Shuttle. This and a number of other factors – budget constraints, government interest in promoting retail space, and rapidly growing commercial expertise in space – prompted NASA to find suitable commercial partners.

NASA wanted to use part of their budget not only for the purchase of services. It was necessary to provide the ISS with cargo, but also to boost the growth of commercial space. NASA was looking for external partners because it recognized that the expertise was now available on the open market to deliver marginal capabilities at a cost lower than that for which NASA could develop it. In 2008, NASA received contracts with Space X and Orbital Sciences to transport cargo to the ISS. Space X conducted its first 2012 replenishment mission and Orbital Sciences 2013.

This model has changed NASA's technology strategy. These are now fixed-price contracts in public-private partnerships where NASA does not exclusively own the technology. Trading partners can sell their services and technologies to other customers. The costs are shared, and NASA pays for milestones reached. Instead of giving detailed specifications for what and how NASA specifies high goals (what) and leaves it to commercial partners. Innovators can then commercially exploit these technologies as they see fit, further boosting the development of space technology and increasing the value of the industry as a whole.

The commercial replenishment program has taught NASA how to work effectively with the commercial sector and manage ongoing public-private partnerships. Culturally, this has led to a more outward-looking agency that recognizes the market's innovative capacity. Working with commercial actors has also given NASA greater commercial awareness, that is, a focus on achieving things as efficiently as possible and being aware of the cost of a particular activity – far removed from the indefinite resources of the Apollo. program.

New offices such as the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program have been established within NASA to manage and promote commercial partnerships. Managers managing these partnerships believe that NASA is one of several parties in the development of space technology and favors an open technical architecture that can facilitate commercial collaborations.

In this networked model, NASA has also adopted open innovation. The agency is now facing online innovation challenges in open competitions, crowdsourcing solutions and ideas to complement internal innovation efforts. Successful open – innovation challenges included competitions for the construction of pressurized but flexible astronaut gloves, ways to accurately measure the demands of space – worn materials such as Kevlar belts, and better predictions of potentially destructive solar flares

In the light of recent policy The US government, which requires NASA to return to manned missions to the Moon and beyond, the organization's new capabilities and structures are becoming increasingly important. NASA is now able to innovate wherever they appear in their networks to achieve such goals as space exploration, the search for extraterrestrial life, and a manned voyage to Mars.


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