NASA Leader Explains Why Failure is Sometimes an Option

Posted on Thu, March 9, 2017

From January 2015 to 2017, Dava Newman served as NASA’s deputy administrator. Newman helped lead the organization forward and provided direction on policy and planning. How does someone attain such an important role?

It’s clear Newman’s pursuit of higher education has been one key to her success—she has a PhD in aerospace biomedical engineering; master's degrees in aerospace engineering and technology and policy; and a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. But, as Newman explained, embracing and learning from failure is also important. Her advice to budding scientists, designers, engineers, and all-around dreamers:

“Fail. Fail often and early.”

This might be surprising advice from someone who worked at an organization known for the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Newman said there are situations, like the historic Apollo 13 mission where the famous phrase was coined, where failure is truly not an option. But “failing smart” is the best way to learn, grow, and eventually succeed.

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