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  Lloyd Oldham  

Lloyd Oldham Former Deputy Project Manager


The following interview occurred October 29, 1998, between Genesis Deputy Project Manager Lloyd Oldham, Lockheed Martin Space Systems-Astronautics Operations, and Senior Associate Alice Krueger, Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory:

A. K. What is your responsibility for the Genesis mission?

L.O. I have a dual role on Genesis. I am the deputy project manager to Chet Sasaki who is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Genesis project manager. I am also the program manager for the Genesis program within Flight Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company--Astronautics Operations. It is most unusual for a NASA project to have a deputy project manager who is not from the same institution as the project manager. In this case it puts me in a key project management position which emphasizes the importance of our team relationship. As deputy project manager, I participate in the reviews of all program elements, have project approval authority in the management of key technical resources and approve allocation of technical resource reserves. I also act for the project manager in his absence.

A.K. How was this position created for this mission?

L.O. The concept of using a deputy project manager from the industrial partner (Lockheed Martin) was an approach defined by Dr. Firouz Naderi and implemented by Chet Sasaki from JPL. I believe he did this to emphasize a team environment, improve communication and enhance the cooperative team effort.

A.K. What is your responsibility within Lockheed Martin?

L.O. As Genesis Flight System Program Manager at Lockheed Martin, I am responsible for managing the design, manufacture, assembly and test of the Genesis flight system. This includes the development of the Genesis spacecraft and Sample Return Capsule (SRC); support of mission operations planning and analysis; design and test of the return to Earth entry, descent and mid-air capture systems; integration of the science electron and ion monitors and payload canister onto the spacecraft and SRC; and, full system pre-launch integration, test and launch operations. Following launch, Lockheed Martin personnel support mission flight operations and are responsible for mid-air capture operations of the SRC and safe delivery of the canister with the Solar Wind Collector Arrays to Johnson Space Center. Mission success is our top priority. I work with my staff to implement all necessary activities to assure all necessary tasks are defined and performed within project technical, schedule and cost constraints to achieve mission success. As a part of these activities I gather and review technical and programmatic status data that is used in guiding the program. Status is also reported to both JPL project management and Lockheed Martin upper management. I report directly to the Lockheed Martin vice president of Flight Systems. This provides a short path to upper management, assuring company resources are provided in a timely manner.

A.K. How were you chosen to fill this position at Lockheed Martin?

L.O. I was chosen for this position through a competitive selection process used to select the most qualified person for key a management position. Before this selection, I was the program manager for the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) program, which is the primary imaging instrument on the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Chandra is a telescope that is similar to the Hubble Space Telescope except that it records images of X-ray emissions from stars. On this contract we worked as a team member with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop this instrument. I was transferred from the ACIS program after the flight hardware was built to become the proposal/program manager for the Genesis feasibility study. Upon completion of the feasibility study, I was assigned as program manager for the Genesis program. In our industry, we sometimes are referred to as "bear catchers" and "bear skinners." "Bear catchers" are managers of proposal efforts designed to win competitive procurements. "Bear skinners" are managers who are responsible for doing the job after contract award. The best "bear catcher" may not be the best "bear skinner." However, as a result of my experience in both proposal and contract management, I was selected to do both for Genesis.

A.K. What is the most fascinating thing about this mission?

L.O. I'm not sure "fascinating" would be my word of choice. To me, this mission is very exciting. It is a significant challenge to do the mission within the schedule planned and the budget available. It is exciting because it is a relatively small, fast mission with science that is at the forefront of space exploration and an outstanding principal investigator. Achieving challenges are always exciting to me. It is all a matter of attitude. We have worked hard for this opportunity. The challenge and commitment is to achieve 100% mission success and do it within the technical, schedule, and cost constraints.

A.K. What is the riskiest part of the mission?

L.O. It is difficult to define the riskiest part of any space mission. We assess all elements of the mission that may have risk and work very hard to eliminate each risk or find a way to mitigate the risk so it becomes very low. An example is the Genesis spacecraft inertial stability. Stability of the spacecraft is maintained by balancing everything around a central vertical axis and then slowly spinning the spacecraft around that axis. One of the riskiest technical areas is maintaining spacecraft stability throughout the mission. This, combined with accurate control near the end of the mission, is required so the SRC returns to Earth on exactly the right trajectory. The risk is associated with the fact that as fuel is used during the mission, the balance and inherent stability of the spacecraft changes. It is like a top spinning when the mass distribution is not perfectly balanced. Therefore, the design has to incorporate operational features that account for these changes and apply constraints to ensure stability. The Genesis spacecraft is designed to be a low risk mission.

A.K. With so many Lockheed Martin people working on different aspects of this project, how do you know what is going on?

L.O. I have always tried to surround myself with outstanding people with good related spacecraft experience and orchestrate their efforts toward a common goal. We have a specific organization that is set up based on years of experience where technical and business personnel have specific responsibility and authority to do their part of the overall job. The organization has a limited number of working managers that report to me so I have visibility of the overall program. Work areas include planning, finance, procurement, estimating, subcontract management, and mission assurance that all support the technical design implementation to be sure each task is well defined and implemented at the right time to produce a quality end product at the right time. As Genesis program manager, I am responsible for key program decisions and must be cognizant of what goes on across the breadth of the program. Since one person does not have the total breadth of knowledge, it is really the total team of people that makes complex things successful. The program manager really "directs traffic" and uses his experience to help with selecting the best alternatives. I must rely on the talented people across the whole team to get the job done right.

A.K. What is your everyday work life like?

L.O. I get to work between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. depending on the phase of the program. Since we are currently in the integration and test part of the program, we have brief coordination meetings at 7:00 and 7:30 to discuss the plans for the day and define the resources needed. Following these brief meetings I try to review e-mail and take care of business actions to make sure I have not missed anything. Then I spend most of my day in one or another type of communication activity. This includes several structured coordination meetings each week, small group and individual communications. I participate in two management teleconferences with JPL each week, one with only the project manager and one with the total project management team. We have a weekly design meeting conducted by the program chief systems engineer. We also have a program status meeting each week where we go through all scheduled activities to see if we are on track. If some part is not on track, my job is to enable the necessary resources and plans to get back on track. We look for issues of cost, schedule, and technical performance. I am also responsible for specific tasks that cannot be delegated. These generally require a couple of hours a day and need to be done before the end of each day such as preparing for presentations, review and approval of documents and procurements, and coordination of personnel. There is always paperwork. I usually put in a 10- to 11-hour day. I work on Saturdays only as much as required. I try to devote Sundays to my family and church. However, there are times when I will work on a Sunday.

A.K. What are the barriers to your work?

L.O. I think the greatest barrier is poor or inadequate communications. One of the biggest management challenges is to make sure there is proper communication because it is so essential to developing good spacecraft. Over time we have introduced practices and procedures that require we write down and document our communications to be sure we have a common understanding. Part of the reason the Genesis project was organized into teams and I serve as the deputy project manager was to strive for a balance between open, informal communication and formal communication between JPL and Lockheed Martin to enable a better product at lower cost. In this same spirit, we have structured the program to be more diligent in producing and following a formal documentation trail which is necessary for quality products. Also, this eliminates non-value added documentation. In doing this we have overcome some communication and implementation barriers. I believe the NASA Discovery Program is a good example of government, academia and industry working together in our industry to find that right balance in this process to obtain the maximum product success at a suitably low cost.

A.K. What do you look for when you hire staff for this project?

L.O. Communication skills, a good attitude, and a strong work ethic are what I look for most. I will hire a people person who will work hard over a valedictorian with poor communication skills or one who has a poor attitude. The basic skills and education are essentialÑeffective communication is equally as essential.

A.K. What path did you follow through education and career to become an engineer?

L.O. Sometimes I think I'm a product of a random numbers generator. The decisions that put me in a technical career were most unlikely. I came from a small community that was economically supported on an agricultural basis. I was practically raised in a tire store with tools in my hands. I went to college to see if there was another environment out there. I went to the university I could afford because I was putting myself through school and chose engineering to avoid taking public speaking. (I thought I didn't need public speaking because I had done more than my share of public speaking in church as I grew up.) Since my university had only a two-year engineering program, I became a physics major because I couldn't afford to relocate. As a result, I ended up with a basic understanding of engineering, an excellent science background and graduated in physics with a minor in math. This taught me to look for and understand the "why" behind phenomena and not just apply the equation to the situation. Yet, in graduate school, my physics thesis advisor referred to me as his "engineering physicist" because I was constantly looking for the practical engineering application of the science we investigated. I'm sure this was the product of engineering classes, including machine shop, welding and surveying and my hands-on experience with tools. I focused on applied physics more than the other physics majors.

A.K. What has been the most surprising thing about your education and your career?

L.O. The most surprising thing is where I ended up. In high school I had so much fun with extracurricular activities that I scarcely took time for the required solids. I was on the high school track and football teams and played softball and basketball in the church programs. I participated in both instrumental and vocal music, and thoroughly enjoyed being in musical drama production throughout high school. I later served a two-year mission for my church which taught me to listen and how to communicate with people of varied ages, backgrounds, and interests. Although I did not have an early focus on engineering or science, these activities enabled me to develop the communication skills that have proved to be critical to my success in my career. I did have to work hard in college to learn the academic tools of science and engineering. I received my first management position at Lockheed Martin in my first year of employment. I attribute this to my combined applied science, communications and engineering background that has given me a unique ability to manage multidisciplines. Working in a multidisciplinary company and having an understanding of virtually all of the engineering disciplines has enabled me to work in 11 totally different technical fields. What a surprise it has been!

A.K. What are your leisure time activities?

L.O. I am very active in my church. Most of my leisure time activities have to do with my family or my church. At the time of this interview I am serving as a bishop in my church, and work with young single adults between 18 and 31 years of age. Although very time consuming, this is a wonderful opportunity to help others and I continually learn from them.

A.K. What is your key to success?

L.O. The key to success is to surround yourself with good people, respect them and do all you can do to enable them to do their job. They in turn will make you successful.

A.K. Any advice for young engineers?

L.O. From my perspective (my knothole in the fence), gain breadth in education and experience. Participate in extracurricular and other activities to develop your communication and people skills. Set high standards for personal conduct and performance excellence, and do not compromise them. Learn to enjoy working hard. Realize the importance of a good attitude. Your attitude is the key to your happiness - in your career, in your family, in everything.

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Curator: Aimee Meyer
Updated: November 2009

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