Ex-Nasa official to help China's space programme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am


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A former top Nasa official and scientist will help China implement a new leadership system for its space programme.

Charles Pellerin, who is in Hong Kong for a management consultants Evans & Peck, said he would provide China with management expertise rather than technical know-how.

He was referring to his '4-D management system', which has been used by 700 Nasa teams since 2003 after he developed this from his experiences with the Hubble telescope project, which he called 'the biggest screw-up in scientific history'.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a key player in the mainland's moon-landing programme, has adopted Pellerin's management system.

'I wanted to take the lessons I learned from the mistakes of Hubble and apply it to all teams,' said Pellerin, a physicist who served the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for 30 years, as an engineer, director of its astrophysics division and a member of the Hubble team.

Launching the Hubble telescope in 1990 changed Pellerin's attitude towards leadership. The telescope failed to work due to a faulty mirror soon after it was deployed in space. After the incident Nasa conducted a failure review board.

'That named the root cause a leadership failure, and I was the leader of the team,' said Pellerin, who eventually led the team that repaired the telescope.

The importance of good leadership stayed with him and became his sole focus after leaving Nasa in 1993 to join the University of Colorado's business school as a professor.

Pellerin believes that the main problem with Hubble was the high pressure, which meant key personnel failed to communicate properly.

He said better communication among project members not only enhanced worker productivity, but helped avoid major mistakes before they occurred. His programme identifies behaviour to monitor. '[These] are based on universal human needs, like feeling appreciated', he said.

Pellerin gave a talk at the Hong Kong Space Museum yesterday on his experiences in repairing the Hubble telescope. 'China is going to lead the world within five to 10 years, it's inevitable. I am trying to help establish Chinese companies in a good leadership role before this happens.'

China has sent two probes to the moon, and plans to land a robotic rover in 2012 and an astronaut before the end of the decade.