Who's Who at NASA

NTB: Are there any kinds of adjustments that you’ve had to make in this new role?

Gaddis: Yeah, but the adjustments are not bad. I came from human spaceflight, where I spent the majority of my career, so I haven’t worked very closely with aeronautics or the science mission directorate, or even lower-tier technology development. With human spaceflight, we still do some technology development, but it’s much closer to maturation for our own purposes. Some of the adjustments: I work very closely with researchers and scientists, and chief technologists across the agency and other government agencies. They’re very creative individuals, and sometimes they push against much needed processes, but it’s a healthy tension to get things done. It hasn’t been negative. I’ve perceived it all as very positive. It’s been a great learning experience for me.

NTB: Are there any other challenges in this role, and with Game Changing technologies?

Gaddis: Two challenges jump out. One, the program’s not very old, and we’ve been chartered to do things differently, to be “game changing,” if you will: to be DARPA-like, some folks have said. What they really asked us to do was to be the premier program or organization within OCT or within the agency to rapidly advance technology from concept to demonstration.

We had to change our leadership model, our governance model, to try to impact how we do business. It’s been a challenge. NASA has a culture, and each one of the centers have somewhat of their own unique cultures, and it’s been a challenge trying to convince folks that “Hey, we don’t have to have a ten year investment plan. We can do these things in short development cycles and focus on critical technologies.” It’s been a challenge to convince some folks to do that, but I would say that the folks at NASA want to do the right thing, and they want to do great work that has an impact, so folks have gotten on board. We’ve still got a challenge ahead of us to convince not only our key stakeholders, but our field centers who are doing the hands on work.

The next challenge is probably neck and neck with that one: there’s never enough funding to support all of the good work, and it’s a difficult task to prioritize the work. You want to do most of it, if not all of it. It’s hard to turn folks down. Lots of smart people are just coming out of the woodwork with great ideas, inside and outside the agency. We have to find some way to prioritize them and fund what we can with the limited budget that we have.

NTB: What is your favorite part of the job?

Gaddis: My favorite part of the job is working with a vast group of people. The people really are the top asset that NASA has. We have lots of creative people, and they just want opportunities. I enjoy working with the industry and the university folks, the headquarters, and the field centers. I enjoy working with the researchers, the scientists, and the technologists, and it gives me great pleasure to fund a lot of the work that they’re doing, and see what we would call true game-changing technologies come out of the endeavor.

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