Waiting

This is the Facebook post that I wrote three days before selection, January 1, 2017:

It’s 4:08 PM here in western Massachusetts, and the sun is sinking behind the western hill, the hill belonging to our neighbors Alice and Paul, who is also the person who built our house and designed and built our shed. The clouds are yellow and the sky is blue and that is a lot of color in this otherwise white and grey winter landscape. It feels like the beginning of the end of Sunday, and on evenings like this years ago my Dad and I would have some tea together and stay up to watch a movie, staving off the coming Monday.

Some time this week I and the other four Principal Investigators of NASA Discovery mission concepts will learn which projects have been selected for flight. Might be one, might be two.
 I’ve only been working on this project for five and a half years. Some of my competitors have been through the process before with the same ideas, and are coming up on a decade of trying to fly their concept. Still, five and a half years. About 150 people have worked on this concept with me. We’ve written about 2,000 pages, including the step 1 and step 2 proposals and all the written, edited, revised, formatted, and published answers to questions that came in between. We have art and models and videos and new scientific and engineering results because of all our efforts to understand how to get to the metal world Psyche and what we might find if we did, and how we could measure it and send the information back to Earth and understand it and interpret it for everyone in the world.

To say our hearts are in this project would be too facile, too surficial, too trite. We have lived and breathed this. We know and love each other and we know each other’s families and we have learned when to be quiet and let the other person work through a peak of frustration late at night after no rest for weeks. We have sweated through countless reviews and celebrated with numerous cakes and dinners the many intermediate successes that allowed us to get here, the ultimate intermediate success, the privilege to wait for the phone call.

That phone call will come to me, out here in western Massachusetts, on our land line. We don’t get cell reception here. I may answer on the Bakelite phone that for decades sat in my parent’s house in Ithaca, NY. And then I will get to tell the team, good news or bad. Sometime this week.

And here is the LinkedIn post that our Lead Systems Engineer, David Oh, wrote:

Psyche: Here’s to the Fools who Dream…

January 2, 2017: Borrowing some from Lindy Elkins-Tanton: it is likely that this week, we will find out which of the five mission concepts competing to be NASA’s next Discovery mission has been selected for flight. Could be one mission, could be two. I’ve been working with Lindy on the Psyche mission for almost 3 years. Around 150 people have worked with us to produce some 2000 pages of written material, supported by engineering analysis, project plans, models and videos… everything needed to show we can fly this mission and explore a metal world. Whether it flies (this round!) or not depends on what we hear this week.

There is a certain craziness to the process. I watched “La La Land”, and was struck by how our experience proposing Psyche mirrors that of the critical call-back audition, where the actress gets one chance to take her best shot, commits completely, and then waits knowing that the odds of being picked are, by their nature, against her. The odds are long, the effort disproportionate, and the emotional commitment total. But she tries anyway, because it is her dream, and she passionately wants the chance to play the part.

So it is working a Discovery proposal. Over the past few years, we have done tremendous work on the mission concept, and we have taken our best shot. We did this knowing that the odds of being picked are, by the numbers, against us, because it is our dream to fly this mission. We have committed to this uncertain work because we are passionate about what we do: planetary space exploration. Exploring where no one has gone before.

To quote from the movie: “Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem.”

Good news or bad, It is my privilege to be part of this dream.