Why Even Astronauts Need Good Schedules


“Life in space is so complicated that a lot of logistics have to be off-loaded to the ground if astronauts are to actually do anything substantive.” And one the most time-consuming logistics is scheduling. Just to build the schedule for the U.S. side of the international space station requires a full-time team of 50 staffers.

Schedules in space work a lot like they do on Earth. Different stakeholders give input and state priorities, all of which compete for a slot on the schedule. NASA schedulers must coordinate details, directives, and due dates the same as other businesses, but instead of trying to satisfy the employees, they are trying to keep them alive.

Schedules in space look similar to their Earthly counterparts. They are lists of tasks organized by time.

Many professionals like to think that their jobs could not be broken out into tasks and put on a schedule. They come in; they leave. The work that happens in between seems inconsequential. However, even “highly educated, highly motivated astronauts end up doing one task after another, all day long.”

NASA experiences some familiar struggles as well. “Only 30 minutes [scheduled] to execute a 55-step procedure that required collecting 21 items,” writes one astronaut. Others complain of tediousness and a failure to understand the realities of the work—familiar complaints to common land-dwellers.

“Every minute of each astronaut’s workday is mapped out in blocks devoted to specific tasks,” the article explains. It goes on to describe the process of how an astronaut receives their mission and sometimes life-critical task list. Although the common terminology used is still “spreadsheet.” It’s interesting that in this truly complex scheduling environment with all employees comfortable and even reliant upon highly complex technology, that optimized scheduling technology is not used.

Imagine if each organization had 1,000 administrators for every one employee. That’s what it’s like to be an astronaut. As children, we think of the flying, the freedom and the adventure of space, when in reality life in space is quite the opposite—orchestrated, scheduled, and pre-meditated. But that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it in need of greater efficiencies. Efficiencies that can relieve us of the administrative tasks and free up to make more meaningful decisions and contributions.

4 thoughts on “Why Even Astronauts Need Good Schedules”

  1. Hi! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your blog posts.

    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?

  2. Great question, Removalist Sydney. Finding other blogs, websites, or forums that are not sponsored by a specific WFM vendor or industry is tough. However, most of them do produce white papers and blogs on workforce management issues related to their systems or technology. Are you just interested in scheduling or just WFM overall?

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