Bill Hill knows how to adapt. The son of an Air Force officer, he grew up globe-trotting, from his birthplace in England to attending high school in Japan.
The ability to quickly adjust has proven beneficial for Hill since he joined Marshall Space Flight Center in 2019. He’s worked with two organizations and held three key positions, from director of advanced technology in the Science and Technology office in 2019, to deputy director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate in 2020, to his current position as the directorate’s director, a role he was named to in January 2021. Hill came to Marshall from NASA headquarters after serving five years as deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development.
Growing up, Hill dreamed of being an astronaut. His favorite member of the corps was Ed White, the first American to conduct a spacewalk. Hill ultimately found himself in vital roles supporting astronauts in their exploration efforts. He joined NASA in 1994, and his proudest moments thus far come from his time with the Space Shuttle Program. He became the program’s assistant associate administrator in 2005 and helped safely execute the final 21 shuttle flight missions, which concluded in 2011. Previously, he was a senior integration manager for shuttle and led Return to Flight activities following the 2003 loss of space shuttle Columbia, and he also was lead safety manager for space shuttle operations.
As he approaches three decades with NASA, Hill has no intention of slowing down.
“I probably should retire someday,” he said, “but I’m having too much fun.”
Question: How do you encourage teamwork, collaboration, and integration, especially in this unprecedented telework environment?
Hill: It’s difficult because I’ve only met probably 30 people in Safety and Mission Assurance, face to face, mask to mask. But we keep up on Microsoft Teams; we do very frequent meetings. I do a monthly all-hands. I do something called “Lunch with Bill” – an informal get together once or twice a month to give our workforce the ability to directly interact with me. We try to make sure that we include everybody. One of the things I’ve done since last fall is to try to periodically have very small on-site meetings. I hope to do all my midterm reviews and performance reviews in person, with masks and social distancing, and I think it will be successful. It gives me the opportunity to see these people who thrive on interacting with other folks.
It is so much easier to have meetings with something like Teams, because with a couple of mouse clicks, you go from one meeting to the next. Whereas, on-site, the biggest struggle was finding a conference room. As we start coming back on-site, I think it’s going to be interesting and a little tougher, because we’re going to have to be completely mindful that we’ll have a blended workforce where some folks will come in, and others will be on Teams and remote. And we’ve got to make sure that the interaction is equivalent.
Question: How are you managing your personal and your team’s work-life balance, especially now, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic?
Hill: Initially, my computer was never off. I would get up early in the morning and log in at 5:30 or 6, and I’d still be on my computer at 5, 6, or 7 at night. I got to the point where I started encouraging people to shut their computer down. I think people are in a rhythm now and understand that they are allowed to walk away from the computer and walk away from their home office.
Question: How does your team honor and demonstrate NASA’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment where team members are valued for their unique contributions?
Hill: In Safety and Mission Assurance, it started well before I came on board. We have a demonstrated track record of diversity and inclusion within our management structure and with the people we hire. We’re very deliberate about it. I’m very deliberate about it.
When I was with Exploration Systems Development, a lot of folks wanted to minimize the number of people in meetings. The way I looked at it was, as transparent and inclusive I could be, the more I would benefit. Just because you don’t have a responsibility or you’re not accountable for something doesn’t mean you might not have an input. Everybody has an opinion, but everybody comes from a different background. And experiences that some folks bring to the table or to the Teams meeting are important. The slightest little bit of interjected thought or question may jog somebody else’s brain to say, “Hey, that’s possible.” So I really try to go out of the way to not exclude people in meetings.
Question: What key partnerships are your team pursuing to help NASA build and develop a sustainable presence on the Moon? Help push the boundaries of science, technology and/or human exploration?
Hill: Safety and Mission Assurance is kind of unique at Marshall because we touch all programs – SLS, HLS, and the International Space Station, along with all the science and technology activities. So we have a unique position to foster safety and mission assurance across the center. We’ve been charged with trying to ensure safety and mission assurance for both astronauts as well as high-value hardware, and making sure we have mission success.
We’ll take a look at how we can do this differently with a different acquisition approach – firm-fixed price or a commercialized approach. I always want to have people who are willing to think about it differently and adapt. It’s something I learned from working with Bill Gerstenmaier (former associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate) for 14 years. He always spoke of learning organizations and learning moments and making sure we pause and think about the past so that we can apply it to the future.
Question: Why do you think your team is successful at staying mission-focused?
Hill: We are part of ensuring that the mission is successful as well as safe, both from a quality engineering standpoint and safety. I strongly consider safety engineering and quality engineering as disciplines that, if the world was perfect, they would probably be in the engineering world, as opposed to a separate Safety and Mission Assurance organization. We’ve got smart people looking to adapt and make sure that we’re successful and focused on the mission. We have various and diverse missions to focus on.
Editor’s note: Daniel Boyette, an LSINC Corporation employee and the Marshall Star editor, supports Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.