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  • Writer's pictureRick Cramblet

Important Work Just Might Take Time

In a sound bite world, you can distinguish yourself by playing the long game doing important work requires...

In "The New Space Age" special issue of Bloomberg Businessweek (July 30, 2018), there is an article entitled "Mission to 67P" that describes one of the finalists for NASA's New Frontiers program that involves the exploration of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. - also known as known as 67P.

Steve Squyre's last NASA project was designed to last 9 months but it actually ran for 10 years. His new idea will take the next 20 years to complete, but it would be accomplishing a dream he's had since he was 9 years old.

The article details the specifics of why NASA - and scientists - would want to explore a comet in the first place (they believe they will better understand the building blocks of life if they can get their hands on the organic material that comets contain), the difficulty of the potential exploration (landing a rover on a 2 1/2 mile wide chunk of ice, moving at 84,000 miles per hour, that orbits the sun once every 6 1/2 years) and the cost of the project (about $1,000,000,000).

While the article is fascinating, what really struck me was the man behind the project. Steve Squyres, a Cornell University professor, had spent 10 years as the head of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program when, in 2013, he had an idea sparked by a discussion with a friend (who was also doing "space stuff") about a mission to Comet 67P. This idea had to be turned into a formal proposal for a NASA mission, a process which took 3 years and was submitted in December, 2016. The project is called CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return) and was ultimately down-selected as one of the two finalists.

If Steve's project wins the competition (the final selection is in 2019), they will work to prepare the special purpose spacecraft until the launch, currently scheduled for no earlier than 2024. After launching, the spacecraft will take 5 years to arrive at Comet 67P and will orbit it for up to 4 more years, taking pictures and attempting to grab samples. The return trip is another 5 years and - if all goes well - the craft and its samples of the comet's material will touch down on earth in November of 2038.

Steve Squyers is currently 62 years old and he's working to launch a project that won't be completed for another 20 years. While that's certainly impressive, it can't be understood outside of the context of his 30+ years as an educator and NASA scientest - a career that had its origin in a morning in 1965 his father woke him up (at 9 years old) to view the comet Ikeya-Seki when it passed by the earth - 80 millions miles away and 10 time brighter than the moon. That spectacular sight changed his life and set him on his current course which, if all goes well, will be completed at the age of 82.

Big, important things take time. Complex and difficult projects require the ability to remain dedicated to the work, the team, the dream for much longer than we would like them to.

When you look at your "to-do" list, your goals and objectives, your annual plan or roadmap, do you have anything on it that would fall in the "important" category? Granted, there are the urgent and routine parts of anyone's responsibilities, but if they have crowded everything of importance off the table, what distinguishes you from anyone else?

We are defined by the difficult work we do, the herculean efforts we undertake, the big dreams we will pursue when others have given up - can you clearly articulate what you are doing today that is truly "important" in the big scheme of things? If you can't, it's not to late to start - just ask Steve...

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