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If you like Daniel Goldin's story, you might also like:
John Mather,
Story Musgrave,
Sally Ride,
Alan Shepard,
Donna Shirley,
Clyde Tombaugh
and Chuck Yeager

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Daniel Goldin
Daniel Goldin
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Daniel Goldin Interview (page: 3 / 6)

Space Exploration

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  Daniel Goldin

Were there any teachers who inspired you or were important to you?

Daniel Goldin: Yes, there was one teacher. I had skipped some grades, so intellectually I was where I was supposed to be, but emotionally I was way behind. I was a goofy kid. I was immature. Skipping was the worst thing for me. I had a hard time sitting still and learning. I got bored in school. I wasn't a good student and I had some bad behavior. I had a teacher called Mr. Alweiss, who was my guidance counselor, and he was always on my case. He drove me in just the opposite way: he told me I was a bum. I remember one day my mother had just seen him. I was in high school, and she was walking home with my little sister Lucy in the carriage and my dog Blackie on a leash hooked up to the carriage.

Tears are coming down my mother's cheeks. And, she says, "I'm going to kill you. I just spoke to Mr. Alweiss and he says you're a bum and you should get out of the college preparation courses and take general training and become a plumber. You should be a plumber, you're such a bum." And I had a rage. He made me angry, and I said, "I'm not going to be a bum. I know I'm going to do great things."

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So, like a rim shot, in a negative way, it drove me. I had a teacher, Miss Barzi, in the fourth grade who recognized my immature behavior. She related to me and that I felt was very, very important. There were a number of different teachers along the way who believed in me. If I liked the course, I would knock it out of the park, and if I didn't relate to it, I would just leave it alone. There were a few inspiring teachers who didn't look at me as a goofball, because I was very shy, but were able to relate to me and draw me out. I had very low self esteem, and I was terrified to say anything in class. It's amazing how an adult can affect a child.

How did you get along with your classmates?

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
Daniel Goldin: It wasn't terrific. I was the oddball, so many times I would be by myself. There were a couple of things that made a change for me. One day the swimming coach asked me if I would like to try out for the swim team. He recognized it, too. And I found I could swim real fast, faster than anyone. That built my self-confidence. In a race, you stand at the edge of the pool, there are six people there, and the gun goes off. Somebody's going to come in first and someone's going to come in last, and I never wanted to come in last. I could compete openly, and I wasn't willing to do that before. I did that in college. Swimming built my self confidence some more, and it helped prepare me to have confidence when I left college. It was another way of helping me believe in myself that complemented what my father did.

Outside of your family, did you have boyhood heroes, real or imaginary?

Daniel Goldin: Spacemen. I used to go to the Ward Theater on Westchester Avenue on Saturday afternoons. They'd have a serial every Saturday. Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. I loved it. They were swashbuckling imaginary heroes - you who'd conquer anything and overcome the forces of evil. I couldn't get enough of it. I knew every word. I'm not much of one for spectator sports, but I went to Yankee Stadium to watch Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizutto. But my real heroes were my father and my grandfather and my Uncle Joe.

When you embarked on your career, was there someone who gave you a break, or saw something special in you?

Daniel Goldin: Yes.

My first boss, Bill Mickelson -- a little short fellow, crew cut, wore a fresh bow tie every day -- and he saw that I was insecure. He saw that I understood how to do the work, but I needed to become more of a complete person. So, he asked me to talk, do public speaking, every single week. He wanted me to talk to a tour group coming through NASA. And this is the '60s; people were fascinated with the space program. And I said, "I can't do that." He said, "Oh yes you are." I mean it was tough love. And, I got in front of my first groups. I got tongue tied and humiliated. And he'd send me back and I'd have problems. I said, "Bill, I can't do this anymore." He'd send me back. I said, "Bill, I can't." "Go back." I did this for two years.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Daniel Goldin Interview Photo
In the process of this interaction, I developed the self confidence to be able to talk to people, not just in groups but one on one. I was beginning to see that what I was doing is worthwhile. The time I take from people is not a burden, maybe I could help enlighten them. Bill Mickelson really helped push me along.

There are a lot of smart people with talent and potential who never realize it. Why do you think you have succeeded where others don't?

Daniel Goldin: I'm lucky. I'll tell you, I love being the head of NASA. I was a corporate executive, I ran a huge organization, but I think I could have been just as happy as a research scientist somewhere out in that sea just being able to work on the space program. I didn't aspire to this. One day I got a call from the White House, from someone who I didn't know. He said, "Dan, the President of the United States wants to know if you'd like to be a NASA Administrator." I said, "Say what? I don't know anything about Washington. I'm not active in politics. I don't belong to any party. Are you sure you've got the right guy?" It just happened. Maybe I'm blessed. Maybe I'm under the right star. I don't know.

What do you think it takes to succeed in your field?

Daniel Goldin: My criteria for success is not to search for power or glory, or to be in charge, but to make a contribution, to make this world a better place. As long as I can continue to do that, I will consider myself successful.

I feel anyone who believes in themselves, anyone who has a dream burned into their brain -- and what the dream is, I don't know -- but as long as they have a direction and they carry it out, and when they have failure they say, "God, what a blessing! I learned! I'll never do that again," those are the people who have success.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

There are some people who decide when they're young they want to be President of the United States, or a football star or a rock star and make millions of dollars, but very few people ever achieve those goals.

I think it's very dangerous for young people to set unrealistic goals because then you have an excuse for failure and you can say, "It's okay that I live in mediocrity because I didn't achieve my goal." But, if you set a goal that's unachievable, you're leading yourself down a very bad direction. Very, very bad. So success must be defined. A dream must be laid down. A determination and inner strength must be there. And, in my case, making a contribution -- taking America to the moon, to Mars and the stars, even as one small piece -- is my definition of success. And I believe I could do that. I know I could do that.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 13:15 EST
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