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Roger Launius: "Going to the Moon was the result of a great collective effort"

Roger Launius, former chief historian at NASA was at BBVA headquarters to deliver one of the featured speeches for Values Day: “Getting to the Moon: the value of the most important idea in human history.”  Launius used the history of the Apollo program and man’s landing on the Moon as examples of two of BBVA’s corporate values: ‘We are one team,’ and ‘We think big.’

Dr. Roger Launius probably knows more about the history of space exploration than almost anyone. For 12 years, he was the chief historian at NASA, in addition to heading up the National Air and Space Museum in the United States.

Launius took center stage in the BBVA City auditorium to deliver one of the Values Day presentations.  In his talk, he told the story about man landing on the Moon. On the 50th anniversary of one of humanity’s greatest achievements, the story of setting foot on the Moon continues to be a relevant case study about the success of working in a well-entrenched team and about the leadership skills demonstrated by those involved.

“Incidentally, if there is still anyone who is wondering: yes, we did land on the Moon; there’s no doubt about it.” That is how the author of more than 20 books on the history of American aviation began his discourse.

Ambition and teamwork

As the professor explained, a confluence of factors contributed to the success of the mission to the Moon, among which he stressed teamwork and the collective effort. “The famous images of Ground Control reflect this very well. Each one of us had our task, but we were all involved and worked together to get the job done,” explained Launius. “The whole team was geared toward a single objective: we’ll reach the moon.”

In his presentation, Launius attributed another important factor for the mission’s success: the fact that the challenge was so ambitious. In 1962, President Kennedy introduced the idea of reaching the Moon before the end of the decade. This was a surprising proposal: at the time, the United States had only achieved 15 minutes of a manned spaceflight. Consequently, everyone began to work against the clock to achieve the ambitious goal. “Talking about thinking big, that was an experience,” Launius joked. “The Apollo program’s greatest success was that it demonstrated that it was possible to reach our goal.”

In a conversation after his speech, the professor commented on the importance of having clear goals and setting targets when aiming to achieve anything in life. “Everyone who wants to achieve something, in their personal or professional lives, must have a goal in mind in order to define the steps that will take them there. This allows you to focus your attention on what you want to achieve. I used to ask my students where they saw themselves in five years, and this made them think about their goals and how they were going to achieve them.”

NASA collaborates in the fight against climate change

Roger Launius - BBVA

According to Launius, the Apollo mission demonstrates a methodology. During the years the program lasted, there was a policy that stipulated something was only started when the previous item had come out well. There was no moving forward if the previous goals had not been met. “If it hadn’t been possible for Apollo 11 to land on the moon, then Apollo 12 would have been the next to try.” he said.

To conclude his lecture, the historian turned to a more recent problem that he recognizes is of significant concern to a lot of people: climate change. “NASA is doing a lot of work to gather data that contribute to climate research,” but he regrets that this scientific knowledge is not reaching those who have to make the necessary protective policies. “NASA’s satellites discovered the hole in the ozone layer, and we worked together to address the problem. And that’s an example of the collaboration we need now.”

Launius believes that in the future we will suffer the consequences of what we’ve been doing for years. “We only have this planet, and we aren’t going to be able to leave on lifeboats, so the best course of action is to take care of her.”

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