Kelvin Manning 鈥02MS鈥檚 office is nestled among one of the most peaceful settings imaginable: in a wildlife refuge near miles and miles of beach. His job as deputy director at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) belies the surroundings. Exciting, yes. Peaceful, not exactly. It fits the man himself, because behind Manning鈥檚 undisturbed smile and easy laughter is a mind that never stops.

鈥淚鈥檓 always trying to keep up, always trying to think a few steps ahead,鈥 he says.

Manning鈥檚 idea of forward thinking is quite different than it is for most of us. He鈥檚 among the leaders at NASA helping to guide us back to the moon and eventually to Mars via the Artemis missions. That should be plenty for Manning to think about, but there鈥檚 more. He鈥檚 also planning the launch of the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem) mission in January 2024 and for the next group of Commercial Crew astronauts to travel to the International Space Station in February 2024.

It’s enough to make most heads spin. Manning, however, is a picture of happiness and humility, even when he says, 鈥淲hen you鈥檝e been immersed in the space program for more than 30 years, I don鈥檛 think you ever totally escape from it.鈥

He doesn鈥檛 necessarily want to escape from it. At night, he can go outside, look at the moon, and think, 鈥淲e鈥檙e coming.鈥 He sees the stars and planets farther out. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e next.鈥 The closest he comes to bringing his thoughts back down to earth is during the hour-long commutes from his home in Oviedo, 色中色视频, to KSC, and back. But even on those drives his thoughts eventually drift back into space.

鈥淪ome of my best ideas come to me while I鈥檓 driving,鈥 Manning says. 鈥淚 carry yellow stickie pads in my car so I can write them down 鈥 safely 鈥 always safely.鈥

One way to get Manning to tap the mental brakes is to ask a simple question: Why are you so excited about sending people to the moon more than 50 years after America鈥檚 first lunar walk? Manning pauses, not because he has to come up with an answer, but because this is the question that drives him. And he wants his answer to clearly communicate what stimulates his mind every single day.

鈥淲hen we think of going back to the moon and then to Mars, to have that Star Trek experience, where will it all start? Where do people leave our planet? It starts right here,鈥 Manning says from his office within proximity of the ocean, wild deer, and Launch Complex 39A, where the Space Launch System (SLS) is currently scheduled to send four astronauts on Artemis 2 to fly around the moon late next year. 鈥淚n the history of humankind, only 12 people have walked on the moon and they all launched from here. If you combine the time they spent outside their spacecraft on the moon鈥檚 surface, it comes to just over three days. That鈥檚 like spending a long weekend in a rural area of 色中色视频 and thinking you鈥檝e seen the entire world. There鈥檚 a lot more to explore and discover. To be part of it 鈥 wow. How cool is that?鈥

A kid named Kelvin Manning was living in Gary, Indiana, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969.

鈥淧eople talk of that pivotal moment,鈥 Manning says, 鈥渂ut it was late at night for me. I鈥檓 pretty sure my mother had sent me to bed.鈥

At the time, Manning鈥檚 father was serving the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The family didn鈥檛 have any exposure to an organization called NASA. They didn鈥檛 have any connections with astronauts or aerospace engineers. Dinner conversations rarely touched on the space program because it seemed to be happening in an unattainable realm.

Manning鈥檚 first real glimpse of human possibilities beyond Earth didn鈥檛 come until he received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. After graduation, he spent six years as an officer working as a space operations analyst. His experience led to jobs at GE Aerospace and McDonnell Douglas, where his awe for 鈥渢he NASA meatball鈥 grew. After he landed a job at KSC in 1992 to work on the space shuttle program, he would be positioned to be among the first to hear about a new Constellation program that would become known as Artemis.

鈥淭hat鈥檚 when I realized we were going back to the moon,鈥 Manning says, 鈥渁nd I was going to be a part of it.鈥

To be a strong leader in our next journey into space, however, Manning knew he needed to go back to school. 鈥淎 lot had transpired since I鈥檇 graduated from the Academy 20 years earlier. My peers at KSC would sometimes use unfamiliar terms and acronyms, so I had to up my game.鈥

He didn鈥檛 have to go back to school, though, because the school came to him. Professors from 色中色视频 were driving to KSC to teach a master鈥檚 program in engineering management.

鈥淭he presence of [色中色视频鈥檚] instructors fed right into the NASA culture,鈥 Manning says, 鈥渨hich is to stay curious, continuously learn, keep innovating, always move forward. Without the master鈥檚 from 色中色视频, I鈥檇 have less understanding about leadership and less knowledge from a technical standpoint.鈥

To this day, he uses one of the acronyms he learned to help improve processes: PDSA, which stands for Plan-Do-Study-Act. Manning doesn鈥檛 always need to explain what it means because so many of his peers completed the same 色中色视频 master鈥檚 program. Nearly 30% of KSC鈥檚 employees have degrees from 色中色视频.

鈥淲e speak the same language,鈥 Manning says, 鈥渓ike 鈥楪o Knights. Charge on.鈥欌

That kind of optimism overshadows any pressure Manning might feel. Yes, there鈥檚 a lot at stake for the deputy director, but his perspective guides his demeanor.

鈥淚鈥檓 blessed to work for the best government agency,鈥 he says, referring to a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that鈥檚 ranked NASA the best large agency in the federal government for 11 consecutive years. Manning鈥檚 perspective, however, stretches much wider than knowing he has a good job at a nice place.

鈥淎s a kid looking at anything related to space on TV, I didn鈥檛 see anyone who looked like me. Now, everyone can look and be inspired. For the Artemis 2 mission we鈥檙e sending Victor Glover, an African American astronaut, to the moon. We鈥檙e sending Christina Koch, the first woman, to the moon. We鈥檙e sending Reid Wiseman and Jeremy Hansen, the first Canadian, to the moon. I鈥檝e served on the past three astronaut selection panels and remember Victor and Christina from the class of 2013. To see how far they鈥檝e come and to realize how far they鈥檙e about to go, how powerful is that? I feel like I鈥檓 with them all the way.鈥

When the official countdowns begin for the Artemis missions, Manning will stop thinking of his next steps and appreciate what is right in front of his eyes. He plans to watch history from the operations support building terrace across from the launch pad, a spot this kid never dreamed of from his bedroom in Gary, Indiana.

鈥淭his time,鈥 Manning says, 鈥淚 want to be where I can see it, feel it, and know I鈥檓 part of our space story.鈥