Making Eagles Fly, A Chat with NASA’s Bob Jacobs

By Cindy Chin, CEO CLC Advisors, LLC

This article is part of a series of articles on design thinking and thought leaders that transform into what we at CLC Advisors, LLC call “i.e.,” the “idea economy.” Where ideas become and transform into widgets for those who choose to dare mighty things and build something.

 


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Image: NASA

I first met NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator Bob Jacobs, during the transition of Space Shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, signalling the end of NASA’s 35-year space shuttle program five years ago. He’s the man at comms mission control behind NASA’s 1500 websites, social media accounts, and official communications and part of a slice of living American history. When he asked one of his mentors before taking the job at NASA, his mentor advised him and said, “You can either continue to write about history or be a part of it.” He took the job. Those are big shoes to fill and Bob Jacobs would be the type of person to tell whether a design of a shoe is big enough and whether it will work. In his case they would be moon or anti-gravity boots and emerging technologies. He’s seen them all and then some.

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Where did you start out in your career? When did you find your calling?
I started in broadcasting, specifically in radio in 1979. I was a Mass Communications freshman at Middle Tennessee State University and terrific of the future. I wasn’t really sure what to do, but this seemed like a good, general major. I visited the campus radio station with a friend who was more advanced in the major and fell in love. To understand my eventual career path you would have to know a little about the history of Nashville television. Let’s just press fast-forward and acknowledge that television and multimedia were the initial driving forces to a communications career that has now spanned nearly 40 years. I still consider myself a journalist at heart.

Early in my career I discovered the importance emerging technologies can play in effective communications. Now don’t get me wrong, platforms such as Snapchat and Twitter should not be considered communications solutions. They’re tools, no more effective than the invention of radio. You have to know how to use them. You still need to know how to integrate the technology with solid communications practices. And you’ll always need good writers and creative communicators to use those tools effectively.

What was your first NASA memory?
As a child, watching television coverage of Gemini missions in my grandmother’s den. I come from the Apollo generation. I was 8-years-old when Neil and Buzz landed on the moon. I remember the incredible joy I felt watching the first color images f

rom Apollo 12 and crying when Alan Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the sun, burning out the pickup tube. There was no television that entire mission. I remember the networks covering the moonwalks with bad-looking stand-ins on a set and mission audio. It has been my greatest privilege to get to know and work with my childhood heroes and be able to call them friends.

Neil Armstrong Family Memorial Service

Bob Jacobs, Annie & the late Senator John Glenn. Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls.

What is it like to witness living history firsthand?
I was struggling joining NASA communications in late 2000. I was working at Associated Press in technology development and missed the editorial side, and we just didn’t find the right fit at AP. When the news chief position at NASA opened, I jumped at the chance, but I struggled with moving from a news organization to a position many consider to be PR. I talked about this with one of my mentors and he said, “You can either continue to write about history or be a part of it.” That was the nudge I needed. I officially joined NASA in July 2000. I have been fortunate to witness and be a part of history. High school students today have never known a time when humans weren’t living and working in space, or when there were working science laboratories on Mars. That’s heady stuff. I’m honored to help tell the stories of the scientists and engineers who achieve these amazing feats. 

How much curiosity, creativity, and imagination is necessary in what you do daily? What is the percentage breakout?
What’s Edison’s old quote that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration? There’s a lot to that. Again, creative ideas can come easy. A lot of people have the answer. The trick is to know how to make that answer a reality. I love watching children at museums. Their minds aren’t cluttered with educations and bias and fear of the unknown. They ask the most outrageously creative yet simple questions. I don’t know how it works for others, but I spend a lot of time trying to plug into that kid who loved Lost in Space on TV. The kid who couldn’t wait for the teacher to pull out the television to watch a launch.

What are the key attributes that have contributed to your success? How did you define it?
Well, there’s a built-in assumption I’ve been successful. I’ll let outsiders make that determination. I’ve had many failures in my career. But if there are any keys to successful communications, it lies in thinking big, pushing boundaries, and then having a plan for making those big thoughts a reality. I don’t buy into many of today’s business buzzwords. I hate people who call themselves “ideators.” What the hell is that? Ninjas and gurus should steer clear of me. Anyone can come up with solutions. The challenge is to be able to turn that solution into action and results. People who just want to throw their grand idea for someone else to execute is lazy. If I give you an idea, there’s going to be a tangible artifact at the end of the process, be it a book, video, event, or one of the world’ss most recognized social media brands. Ideas are easy. Anyone can tell you to “do more concerts in the park.” The trick is to navigate within the available resources are structures of your organizations and still be able to execute. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t break rules. However, if you’re going to implement transformation that’s lasting and get other people to buy into your idea so it becomes part of the new model, you have to spend time working within the existing framework. Here’s where I refer you back to John Kotter. Remind me to send a “thank you” note to John for my career! Finally, you have to surround yourself with smart and good people. Note the use of the word “good.” I mean that in every definable sense you can imagine. In the end, a leader is successful by the people who carry out the elements of any plan. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented individuals who are good people. Organizations often mistake aggression and asshole for talent. Being mean doesn’t make you good at being a leader. It just makes you mean.

This article first appeared on Medium. To read more about our chat with Bob, his advice on crisis communications, insights into what it is like to manage NASA’s over 1500 websites and social media accounts, The Jacobs Four Commandments for Crisis Communications, and what’s on his mind these days, please go to our Medium page here.


About Bob Jacobs
Bob Jacobs is a recognized leader in social media engagement, strategic and crisis communications, and innovative media development. He is currently the NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications and has directed projects and work that earned three Emmy Awards in Television, eight Webby Awards for the best Internet site, and three Shorty Awards for best social media.

Bob has earned four agency medals for exceptional achievement, exceptional service, and outstanding leadership. He is the senior career NASA spokesperson and serves as Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications, and often publicly represents the Office of Administrator and other senior agency leadership. He is responsible for directing and executing many of the agency’s outreach activities.

His creative communications approach led to the collaboration on such films as “Hidden Figures and “The Martian.” Bob led a number of public and education events related to the films, including public premieres and videos with Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson. He directed the collaboration on the Internet-based Third Rock Radio station and the highly-popular Angry Birds Space mobile gaming platform. Bob also developed, co-authored and edited four books, including “Hubble: A Journey through Space and Time” and “Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts,” plus a children’s book “The Astronauts Alphabet.”

A Nashville native, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s degree from Seton Hall University.

About NASA
For more than 50 years, NASA has been breaking barriers to achieve the seemingly impossible — from walking on the Moon to pushing the boundaries of human spaceflight farther than ever before. We work in space and around the world in laboratories and wind tunnels, on airfields and in control rooms to explore some of life’s fundamental mysteries: What’s out there in space? How do we get there? And what can we learn that will make life better here on Earth? We are passionate professionals united by a common purpose: to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. Today, we continue NASA’s legacy of excellence and innovation through an unprecedented array of missions. We are developing the most advanced rockets and spacecraft ever designed, studying the Earth for answers to critical challenges facing our planet, improving the air transportation experience, and so much more. Join us as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humanity.

About Cindy Chin
Ms. Chin is an entrepreneur, venture strategist, & cultural ambassador of the arts & sciences. As CEO of CLC Advisors, LLC, she is an advisor & board member to founding startup teams, opportunity scout for VC & LP partners, a global strategic thought leader, & a sought-after speaker.

Cindy is also a NASA Datanaut, an open data innovation program to promote data science, coding, and gender diversity. The NASA Datanauts program operates within the Office of the CIO at NASA Headquarters. She is also a mentor in the Google Launchpad Mentor Program, Stanford University’s Technology Entrepreneurship and undergrad programs, and a member of the faculty of the Startup Executive Academy of Silicon Castles in Salzburg, Austria.

Cindy is passionate about social impact, smART cities, public-private sector partnerships & building great companies. She achieves this by defining strategies for building multidisciplinary ecosystems, accelerators, outreach, & innovation phases of ventures, alternative revenue generation & sustainability. Gender parity & diversity are factors for consideration.

About CLC Advisors, LLC
CLC Advisors, LLC is a firm of trusted advisors and management consultants focusing on development and execution strategies to build and incubate value-based business ventures, innovations, initiatives, and forward exponential technologies to future societies and smART cities. We are dedicated to finding solutions for traditional business models or expanding into the growing arenas of impact investing, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and philanthropy venture capital.

Beyond Icarus to Mars: The Future of Travel

This article is part of a series of articles on design thinking and thought leaders that transform into what we at CLC Advisors call “i.e.,” the “idea economy.” Where ideas become and transform into widgets for those who choose to dare mighty things and build something.

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Remember the days when people bought a plane ticket through a travel agent and a paper ticket was issued. When airlines, crew, and staff took pains in order to ensure those lucky enough to afford a plane ticket would travel in luxury and comfort? It was something of a lifestyle coveted by all, yet experienced by few. With the explosion of the internet, aviation research and technology, fuel costs, travel is not only online today, but the customer’s journey from discovery to return to base has shifted and changed dramatically. We are again at those crossroads, the travel and transportation industries are hustling to meet those demands.

With the expectation and estimates of the space industry estimated to grow by 2040 to US$1.1 trillion and US$2.7 trillion by Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch respectively, the landscape of the future of travel will exponentially shift again. SpaceX’s Elon Musk’s bold call for BFR, a reusable transport rocket that can transport travelers to anywhere on the globe in under an hour, seems like a moonshot in the distant future, but a necessary first step if the human race is to become multi-planetary. The race was started by Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic years ago in the quest to travel up to the tip of the atmosphere to bounce back into airspace, shortening the travel time between two points of destination. Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, impressively funded by Bezos himself, is another major player in the commercial aerospace industry joining titans such as Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada, Airbus, ULA, Rolls Royce, and Boeing on the propulsion engine and systems side.

Shaping the way people discover, shop, and share their travel journeys has redefined the mobility industry and how the world connects with personal and business travel. Not just people, but the transfer of material and consumer goods as well. To better understand how the future of travel continues to inspire the world of people and mobility, CLC Advisors and our experts are looking into the following areas and new industry players, identifying key shifts and trends that are influencing creatively our appetites and passion for the future travel:

  • Trade, delivery & transport of goods (manned and unmanned)
  • Energy, efficiency, & fuel
  • Propulsion and landing systems
  • Infrastructure development in cities and future colonies
  • Sustainability and carbon-free environmental technologies
  • Recycled rockets
  • Consumer electronics, AR, & VR
  • New materials and material science
  • Batteries, sensors, & ioT
  • Artificial intelligence and robotics
  • Health, medicine, & wellness
  • Food & hospitality
  • Future supply chains & 3-d printing
  • Optical communications, satellite positioning (low-earth and above-earth), lasers, radar and telemetry (See our recent article about space lasers and satellite communications at our site visit to NASA Goddard here or on Medium here.)
  • Data and public safety
  • Behavioral science and psychology
  • Global economic impact
  • To learn more about the future of travel and the future impact of frontier technologies and investment in the public and private commercial aerospace and aviation industry, and the behaviors science when it comes to travel, head over to our i.e. section of our website here. We are looking for industry executives and companies who are interested in our industry research report and we will be sharing some success stories on our website and our page on Medium here. Please feel free to contact us here or via email at info@clcadvisors.com.

    About Cindy Chin
    Ms. Chin is an entrepreneur, venture strategist, & cultural ambassador of the arts & sciences. As CEO of CLC Advisors, LLC, she is an advisor & board member to founding startup teams, opportunity scout for VC & LP partners, a global strategic thought leader, & a sought-after speaker.

    Cindy is also a NASA Datanaut, an open data innovation program to promote data science, coding, and gender diversity. The NASA Datanauts program operates within the Office of the CIO at NASA Headquarters. She is also a mentor in the Google Launchpad Mentor Program, Stanford University’s Technology Entrepreneurship and undergrad programs, and a member of the faculty of the Startup Executive Academy of Silicon Castles in Salzburg, Austria.

    Cindy is passionate about social impact, smART cities, public-private sector partnerships & building great companies. She achieves this by defining strategies for building multidisciplinary ecosystems, accelerators, outreach, & innovation phases of ventures, alternative revenue generation & sustainability. Gender parity & diversity are factors for consideration.

    About CLC Advisors, LLC
    CLC Advisors, LLC is a firm of trusted advisors and management consultants focusing on development and execution strategies to build and incubate value-based business ventures, innovations, initiatives, and forward exponential technologies to future societies and smART cities. We are dedicated to finding solutions for traditional business models or expanding into the growing arenas of impact investing, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and philanthropy venture capital.

 

Pew! Pew! Laser tag with Space Lasers

This article is part of a series of articles on design thinking and thought leaders that transform into what we at CLC Advisors, LLC call “i.e.,” the “idea economy.” Where ideas become and transform into widgets for those who choose to dare mighty things and build something.

By Cindy Chin, CEO CLC Advisors, LLC

Copyright © Cindy Chin. All rights reserved.

Last week, I had a site visit to NASA Goddard to tour the facility again where the laser instrument on NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite — called ATLAS, for Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System — is undergoing testing before its 2018 launch.

NASA Goddard. Copyright © Cindy Chin. All rights reserved.

The ATLAS lidar on ICESat-2 uses 6 laser beams to measure the earth’s elevation and elevation change. By arranging the beams in three pairs of two, scientists can also determine the slope between the two beams, a key component of determining elevation change along the Reference Ground Track.

Data measurements and project scientist presentation was displayed on NASA Goddard’s stunning hyperwall where the implications of one (1) meter of sea level rise will have huge economic implications on cities around the globe. The data shows that the ice in Greenland and the Nordics is already shrinking on the effects of #climatechange.

In addition to speaking to the project scientists of ICESat2, during the visit I got to see the Global Ecosystem and Dynamics Investigation instrument as it is being built. Pronounced “Jedi,” GEDI launches in 2019 to the International Space Station and will be used to obtain NASA’s first high-resolution laser ranging observations of the 3D structure of Earth. The casing for GEDI is almost complete and will be launched into space on a #SpaceX’s payload to the ISS, International Space Station. NASA uses VR and Oculus Rift for laser communications demonstration of the TDRS.

On an unplanned visit, my second, to NASA Hubble’s Control Center with Hubble Deputy Project Manager Jim F. Jeletic, we learned that guidance sensors on are used to control the Hubble Telescope. Mission Control Center functions autonomously today and Hubble’s team is excited for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2019 from Kourou, French Guiana. With the #data collected from both telescopes, Hubble at visible light, near infrared (IR), and ultraviolet light, and James Webb at unprecedented resolution and sensitivity from the long-wavelength (orange to red) visible light through the mid-infrared (0.6 to 27 micrometer) range, the data will give a more complete picture of our universe, stars, and other galaxies, complementing Hubble’s data.

It also was exciting to see the mock-up of WFIRST, Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, that will be used to explore dark matter and exoplanets and the preparation of TIRS, Thermal Infrared Sensor that be launched with Landsat-8.

Copyright © Cindy Chin. All rights reserved.

The visit concluded with a laser demonstration of TDRS, Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, at the NASA Goddard Geophysical abd Astronomical Observatory (GGAO) and it’s command centers where a laser beam is shot into the sky every few minutes and captured by a passing satellite. The precision of space lasers used in optical communications is looking for a target no larger than a dime, an incredible feat, and the research and development is setting the path for future optical communications for satellites that is beyond GPS here on low-Earth orbit.

Thank you to #NASASocial and NASA Goddard for letting me tag along on the site visit. It was a long and really inspiring day! #pewpew #spacelasers

Image: NASA Social

To learn more about what is happening at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, please see below:

NASA ICESat2 Mission: https://icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov

NASA Space Lasers: https://icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov/space_lasers

NASA GEDI (Global Ecosystem and Dynamics Investigation): https://science.nasa.gov/missions/gedi

NASA Hubble Mission: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html

NASA TDRS, Tracking and Data Relay Satellites: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/tdrs/home/index.html

NASA GGAO, Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory: https://cddis.nasa.gov/ggao/

About NASA Goddard

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is home to the nation’s largest organization of scientists, engineers and technologists who build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study Earth, the sun, our solar system and the universe.

Just outside Washington, Goddard is home to Hubble operations and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Goddard manages communications between mission control and orbiting astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Goddard scientists stare into the sun, grind up meteorites for signs of life’s building blocks, look into the farthest reaches of space, and untangle the mysteries of our own changing world. Goddard engineers construct sensitive instruments, build telescopes that peer into the cosmos, and operate the test chambers that ensure those satellites’ survival.

Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established May 1, 1959, as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several installations are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

For more information, please visit the NASA Goddard website at https://www.nasa.gov/goddard