Skip to main content

How THE WORLD is like Mission Control: Teamwork

In light of recent, on-going events (COVID-19 for those reading this in the future), I've modified my "How T1D is Like Mission Control" series slightly this week because these comparisons are for all residents of planet Earth - not just those with diabetes. 

If you're not familiar with the series you can click these links to read about Responsibility, Toughness and Competence. In Mission Control we live by, cultivate and hone seven characteristics essential to flight control - the guidelines are called the "Foundations of Flight Operations".  This week I am focusing on TEAMWORK. 

This picture of Earth was taken during the Apollo 13 mission which launched 50 years ago this weekend. It was arguably the most teamwork-intensive mission of the Apollo series due to an explosion that left the spacecraft crippled. The astronauts had to forfeit their chance to walk on the moon and mission control had to engineer flight plans and scrubbers on the fly in order to get the crew home safe. 

"Realizing that we work toward a common goal..." In mission control, our common goal is three-fold: (1) crew safety, (2) vehicle safety, and (3) mission success. This is how we prioritize discussions, formulate troubleshooting plans, and work problems. Through run after run in simulations, we practice recognizing situations where these three aspects are in conflict and work as a team to resolve issues with the first priority always being crew. And now, on this spaceship Earth, we are all in the midst of a giant anomaly - a pandemic, affecting all of precious Earth's "crew". Just as in spaceflight, our common goal must start with crew safety - but that takes teamwork.

"Respecting and utilizing the abilities of others". Yes. This one, right here. Respect for all those on the front lines in the hospitals and clinics, testing stations and urgent cares. Respect for policymakers making tough decisions and begging for more money and supplies to keep their constituents, their "crew" safe. Respect for law enforcement and firefighters, always. Respect for grocery store clerks and stockers, pharmacy technicians, delivery drivers, and customer service representatives. Respect for those making every effort to stay home and the companies that are enabling that. Respect for creatives who are lending their talents virtually to make all of us less stir crazy. Respect for teachers who have been thrust into a whole new teaching medium, and their students who are on the same learning curve. Respect for organizations cancelling huge money-making events in the name of public safety. Respect for manufacturing companies switching out assembly line components to make PPE. Respect for analysts combing the numbers to help everyone make the best decisions.

"...for success depends upon the efforts of all."

I couldn't have said it better myself, NASA.

We are all in this together, we all have a role to play and talents to contribute. And whatever "success" is in this situation - whether flattening the curve or developing new ventilators or manufacturing more PPE or researching vaccines and treatments or caring for those who are sick - it depends upon the efforts of all. This generation may not have its "Apollo moment" yet, where the world came together and everyone, regardless of nationality felt a collective push forward as humankind, but in the midst of such a worldwide crisis, I'd like to think we will look back on it with similar feelings - working towards the common good, a time to bind together, a moment of sheer Earth Teamwork - with the deepest tenderness for those lost.

Godspeed fellow crewmates.


Popular posts from this blog

The road to curing Type 1 Diabetes

From the moment of diagnosis, the road is rough, the learning curve is steep and the stakes are literally life or death. The map is less-than-helpful - paths originating from virtually every corner, coalescing at a center point (aka "diagnosis") and bursting back outwards - some paths cross and wrap around each other but others are isolated. And even with all of these roads, most of the territory is uncharted - how did we all get here and how will we all exit? Where are the obstacles we haven't found yet? Which passage holds the key to unlocking the solution?

On any given day I feel pretty isolated with this disease - I'm the only T1D in my group at work, the only one in mission control, the only one in my family. I go through the logistics of calling insurance companies, ordering supplies, changing sites and troubleshooting malfunctions mostly on my own. Even those pesky carbs really only get counted in my brain, no group think for a meal bolus here. But there is b…

International Travel with Type 1 Diabetes

Whew! Back from one international trip and on to another next week! I will admit my eyes roll every time I get the "we're gunna need to pat you down" talk at TSA, but international travel is a whole different animal. I thought it might be fun to see what goes through my brain and into my bags for these types of trips!

I wouldn't be a NASA Flight Controller if I wasn't good at planning, the key to international travel as a T1D is PLANNING!

3 months prior

Assess supplies. Mine come in 90-days supplies so I like to inventory at least 3 months prior and make a plan to order more early if the trip is going to coincide with the end of my 90-day stock. In my experience supply companies are usually pretty good about adjusting orders as needed if you tell them the reason for the early request - just mention you have an international trip coming up and want to make sure to have plenty of supplies (and backups!) in time. Request a loaner insulin pump. It's likely the comp…


Last week I had the chance to mentor a newly certified ADCO trainee - the NASA process is called "Hot On-The-Job-Training", or Hot OJT. What makes it "hot" you ask? Well, essentially I am hands off - he is sitting at the console, working all the plan reviews and updates, making calls to other flight controllers and to the flight director, reacting to anomalies and preparing material for the shift handover. My job is to act as the fault tolerance - a backup ADCO of sorts.

Tuesday was his last official day and by Wednesday morning he was in the backroom sending commands to ISS in preparation for the docking of a three-person Soyuz.

The beauty of this system is the gradual buildup in responsibility. There is a subtle shift from student, to subject matter expert, to fresh operations trainee to advanced trainee and finally to certification and real-time operations flight controller - the process takes two years on average and is considered by many to be enough specializ…
01 09 10