The Shuttle Shokunin, and Kennedy Space Center's 50th anniversary

Discovery launch. Source: NASA.

This past weekend, I accompanied Miles O'Brien to the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center. In attendance were present and past KSC directors, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts and space heroes of all eras—from Thomas Stafford to Cady Coleman—and many of the so-called "pad rats" who built spacecraft from the Apollo era through the Shuttle era. Miles delivered an amazing speech dedicated to those pad rats.

If you're familiar with traditional Japanese craftsmanship culture or you've seen the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you'll know why he calls them "The Shuttle Shokunin."


The recurring theme here is of an extraordinarily passionate, proud, meticulous workforce that embraces a philosophy that is lost on many Americans. Here they take tremendous pride in everything they do – and for all the right reasons.

The Japanese call this shokunin kihitsu. Literally translated: the craftsman's spirit. But that doesn't do it justice.

Those who ascribe to this way of life take pride in everything they do. In Japan, sushi chefs, fishermen, and carpenters all practice their craft— no matter how seemingly menial—with a driving sense of obligation to work to their utmost for the good of all.

And here is an essential point: shokunin make something for the pure joy of it; carefully, beautifully, and to the best of their ability. It has nothing to do with fame or fortune. It is nothing short of an unyielding pursuit of perfection. At KSC, they have mastered a trade that demands it—and they have risen to meet the challenge time and again.

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There's a wonderful NASA image gallery here of historic photographs related to KSC's 50th anniversary, and here's a video montage they played at the dinner.

Mercury Mission Control, Astronaut Scott Carpenter. Astronaut Scott Carpenter stands in front of the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral. Carpenter was the pilot for the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission aboard Aurora 7, which launched May 24, 1962.

Image credit: NASA