– By Mike Konzen, CEO
This July we are celebrating America’s space program. Fifty years ago on July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon’s surface. Forty-two years later on July 21, 2011, Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center, concluding STS-135, the final mission of NASA’s storied Space Shuttle program.
As a seven-year-old boy, I watched my childhood hero Neal Armstrong descend the ladder. As he set foot on the lunar surface, he spoke those famous words: “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” With those simple words, Armstrong concisely framed the higher purpose of his mission, and indeed the entire Apollo program.
Fast forward to 2011, and our PGAV Destinations team was watching STS-135 very closely. We were designing a museum to house the retired Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, and we needed the ship to complete the mission so that we could install it as the centerpiece of our exhibit. As Commander Chris Ferguson successfully landed the shuttle orbiter, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Then he spoke these words:
“The Space Shuttle changed the way we viewed the world. It’s changed the way we view our universe. There’s a lot of emotion today, but one thing is indisputable: America’s not gonna stop exploring.”
For the many thousands of people who developed, assembled, processed, launched, and flew the 135 Space Shuttle missions, Ferguson encapsulated their historic accomplishment, while also pointing to the future: “America’s not gonna stop exploring.”
For the hundreds of us working on the museum project at NASA, Delaware North, PGAV Destinations, and other organizations, that statement became our mission: to tell the story of the Space Shuttle program, and to inspire the next generation of space explorers. All of us understood that our work on the Space Shuttle Atlantis project was serving this higher purpose.
I believe that working to serve a higher purpose is a key to living a full, meaningful life. Projects like Space Shuttle Atlantis remind us of what’s important:
- Believe in your potential to make a big impact. No matter what your role, you can help make something great happen for a higher purpose. While our project was aimed to fulfill many objectives, its real goal was to promote the future of space exploration for all of mankind.
- Look to the long term. We should always remember that the results of our work will often come well after we’re done. While the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, its example serves as inspiration for many generations.
- Be part of a team that believes. Most great endeavors require a large collective of talents and individuals. We were fortunate to be inspired by so many people at NASA and Delaware North who believed fervently in America’s space program. Our work on this project is dedicated to them.
- Make the higher purpose your calling. It’s fine to be individually recognized for your work, but stay focused on the big picture. In the end, we love most to watch guests applaud, enjoy, and even cry as they experience Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Our project was dedicated in July, 2013, two years after Atlantis landed for the final time. Later that summer, our entire PGAV team traveled to Kennedy Space Center to celebrate this milestone project. In the photo above, you see our crew, with our tour guide Commander Chris Ferguson in the lower right hand corner.
By working in service of something much bigger than ourselves we can be inspired to achieve excellence. Since opening in 2013, Space Shuttle Atlantis has hosted more than eight million visitors. I’d like to think that among them are the future space explorers who will again change the way we view our universe.